Published: Sunday, January 09, 2011, 5:00 PM

Blake Thorne | Flint Journal


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Blake Thorne | Flint Journal


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FLINT, Michigan — When students in the Flint Classical Academy’s chess club play against their teammates, they sort of know what to expect.

Shaun Gillian likes to play aggressive. Regina DeLoach likes to start soft, then attack when her opponent thinks they have a chance. Even the coach, English teacher Dan Hillaker, can be read.

“If I sit down to play them, they know some of my tendencies,” Hillaker said. “If you play against an unknown opponent, it forces you to play smart in every way.”

ERB.chess04.JPGHarrison Watson, 13, left, plays a game of chess with Dustyn Frolka, 16, as Naoto Gillian, 14, center, watches at Flint Classical Academy.

That idea is the driving force behind Hillaker’s goal to recruit local adult players to come in on Wednesday afternoons to give the young players a taste of different styles of play.

The club sometimes brings in as many as 25 students to play on Wednesday’s in Hillaker’s classroom. Four of the best players in the club regularly compete against other schools in the area. They played Goodrich last week.

Some are working to make the competition group, others just like to play.

“We run it like a winter sport, but we compete with wrestling, robotics, student council,” Hillaker said. 

 Hillaker’s been able to get a few unfamiliar players, like parents and a wrestling coach, out to his classroom.

Classical Academy is housed in the east wing of Flint Southwestern Academy and serves about 250 seventh- through 12th-graders, though some students from Southwestern play with the club as well.

“I usually think four or five steps ahead of the game,” said 16-year-old Gillian, who started playing seven years ago when he was introduced to the game at Doyle-Ryder Elementary School.

The students take themselves seriously at the chess board. They shake hands to start a game. They play with a clock. They say few words during play besides “check,” “checkmate,” “would you like a draw?”

 A group of 11 students got together to play each other and go over some basics in Hillaker’s class last week. They even studied the recorded moves — “I call this game film,” Hillaker says — from a few previous games on an overhead projector.

“We have to obey our rules of smart chess,” Hillaker tells the students.

No. 1: Don’t move the same piece twice in a row in the opening.

DeLoach knows the rules, all five of them, even though she’s still in seventh grade and still learning the finer points of the game, she’s got about three or four years of playing experience.

“It’s a challenging game,” the 12-year-old said. “I like that it requires a lot of skill and thinking,” she said.

Classical Academy sophomore Brandon Adams likes that part, too.

“I like the strategy of the game, because there can always be a different outcome,” Adams said.