Matthew Malitz already has thanked his mother, Gretchen, for suggesting strongly that he start learning to play chess when he was in kindergarten.
Now a third-grader at Monroe School, Matthew is one of the top players out of about 60 students at the Hinsdale elementary school who stay once a week after classes have ended for the day to participate in a chess club.
“I knew what chess was, but I kind of didn’t want to do it,” Robby said Monday afternoon during a break from a chess club get-together. “Once I started, though, I like it a lot. And I’m glad my mom had me do it.”
Matthew is a good enough player at his grade level to compete against other third-graders from around the state, said Rudy Enriquez, who runs the Monroe chess club.
“We have some pretty good players in this group, and Matthew definitely is one of the better ones,” Enriquez said. “We’ll be trying to work up some of our better players to tournament play, and there is a state meet in March.”
Enriquez was one of the teachers for a group that operated the chess club last year at Monroe. He started his own company, Chess Infinity, in 2010 and was chosen by the Monroe PTO to handle the school’s chess club for the 2010-11 school year. The club started its weekly meetings in mid-November and is scheduled to continue into March.
“We have a beginner group and a group that is a little more advanced,” Enriquez said. “For the beginners, we want them to learn the fundamentals of chess and learn about being on a team. The kids who are more advanced are the ones we try to get ready as tournament players.”
Enriquez said involvement in the chess club helps students with academics, especially math and science.
“There is a direct relationship between chess and grades, particularly in math and science,” he said. “Chess is like a workout for the brain.”
Matthew said he enjoys math and playing chess. Along with the time he spends with the Monroe chess club, the 9-year-old plays often plays online.
“I’ve improved a lot,” he said. “You need some confidence to be a good chess player, and you need to know how the pieces move. The main thing is being able to calculate. You have to think ahead and try to figure out what move your opponent is going to make and then be ready to react to it.”
Robby Werkema is only in kindergarten and has been playing chess for less than a year. But his skills have progressed enough so that it’s difficult to believe he is so young while watching him play chess.
“I bought my first chess game with my own money,” Robby said. “I like chess. It’s kind of like fighting, but nobody really gets hurt.”
Robby enjoys winning when he plays chess, but said he doesn’t get angry or frustrated when he comes up on the losing end of a game.
“I can beat lots of people,” he said. “My mom (Sarah) is pretty good, but she only beat me twice, and I beat her three times.”
Robby doesn’t even mind staying after school once a week to participate in the Monroe chess club.
“I don’t mind staying after school at all because it’s fun,” he said.