You’ve got to believe Mitchell Robison likes the game of
chess.

Although he doesn’t hear it in his sleep, he does hear it on the
Internet.

And his addiction to the 1,000-year-old board game is being
transmitted to Rio Rancho High School students – at least the
handful that shows up weekly in a Humanities Academy classroom to
hear Robison tell them how to recognize threats, captures and pins,
and multi-purpose moves.

A product engineer at XILINX in Northeast Albuquerque, Robison
volunteers to teach and coach the game at RRHS. He’s been playing
the game since 1978, after he sprained an ankle “and couldn’t do
anything else.”

His love for the sport and expertise grew, and he has played in
two tournaments this year. He has seen chess grow in the state,
from six tournaments in 2003 to 26 last year, and said there have
been 30 already this year.

A magnetic chess board hangs in the front of the classroom;
Robison uses it to chart moves.

Students know what he’s talking about when he uses letters and
numbers to detail moves. The board is lettered in one direction,
numbered in another, and, of course, by now students know how their
eight pawns, two knights, two rooks, two bishops, and their king
and queen move.

The object of the old game is to capture your opponent’s king
while protecting your own from capture.

It’s not the fastest-moving game ever invented, and can’t
compare with the instant gratification many of today’s teens are
accused of seeking, which they find with the proliferation of video
games. Plus, in chess, an opponent’s pieces are merely captured,
not gunned down or blown up.

Robison said he’s happy when kids show up in Room 213 because he
realizes he’s “up against a lot of competition for their
attention.

“We’ve had mixed success this year,” he said. “Successful in
that we have added some new members to the team and not so good
because we have yet to field a team at an Albuquerque Scholastic
Chess League event thus far.”

The New Mexico Activities Association sponsors two divisions for
chess competition in the state; last year, 10 teams competed in the
large school state tournament, four in the small school
division.

Robison says “having six (players) would be kind of nice,” so
the Rams could field a team.”

Learning and playing the game, he said, “makes them focus on a
goal they want to get to and plot the actions they have to take to
get there. It makes them deeper thinkers.”

Senior Tahir Hall, arguably the most-accomplished of the quartet
of students showing up on Tuesday, finished in a tie for the New
Mexico Primary State Championship back in 2002.

He’s usually got the next move Robison is seeking from the club
members – or team members, because he’s ultimately hoping to field
a competitive team – and has to be reminded once in a while his
“name’s not Jessica.”

Hall says he’s in the classroom because he’d “played a lot when
I was little. Then I didn’t play for a few years.”

Sophomore Jessica Tipton said her father taught her how to play
the game and “I want to get better; I want to beat my (13-year-old)
brother.”

Sophomore Alex Vigil is still rough around the edges when it
comes to chess; he seemed puzzled during much of Robison’s talk
about strategy. Vigil, who said he’s been playing the game for
about a year, said he stayed after school “because I want to play
chess better.”

And foreign exchange student Paul-Joachim Niehoff, from Germany,
said he didn’t know why he came to the classroom. “I’m just
interested in chess. Nobody in my host family plays.”

Critical thinking is an important process for everyone, and it’s
certainly important when playing a game of chess. What is your
opponent likely to do with his next move? Where should I be moving
next?

In addition to helping one develop critical-thinking skills by
learning the game of chess, the ancient game also helps gain
confidence, learn to solve problems, build discipline, increase
concentration, learn to strategize, learn to recognize patterns and
develop tactics, improve communication, build memory skill, learn
sportsmanship, and analyze and evaluate.

It’s no secret that education in the U.S. lags behind many
countries; maybe if chess were in more students’ lives, their
grades would improve.

After all, Robison knows, chess is part of the curricula in
nearly 30 countries, and in Venezuela, Iceland, Russia and other
countries, chess is a subject in all public schools.

The game itself can be traced back to the sixth century in
India, although it wasn’t until about 1475 when several major
changes made the game essentially as it is known today.

Writings about the theory of how to play chess began to appear
in the 15th century.

From time to time, Robison would quote a strategy he’d read
about, no doubt developed long ago, and then counter that by
saying, “There are very little hard and fast rules in chess. …
What it comes down to is at the end of the day, you have to make
your own moves.”

If you’re interested in the RRHS club or anything else chess
related, send him an e-mail at mitchellrobison@yahoo.com.