At the age of 6, Sivani Manimaran is already practicing her chess moves with a champion.

 The first-grader, a member of the Fellows Elementary School chess club, teamed up with 10-year-old Olivia Jenks on Friday to practice for today’s Iowa State Chess Association’s K-12 chess tournament at Ames High School. The event starts at 9:30 a.m.

 Olivia, a fifth-grader, beat out all other girls in her age-group at the tournament when she was in third grade. She said she enjoys learning new strategies and teaching them to younger players.

 “I like the queen opening,” she said. “You use the pawn closest to the queen to get one of the four main middle squares.”

 Greg Welk, a parent coordinator taking his turn helping manage about 25 children ranging from first through fifth grade who were practicing on Friday, said students in the club begin by learning the basic chess moves.

 “Then they’re coached through intermediate and advanced levels of moves and strategies,” he said. “They also learn how to write up the moves in chess notation.”

 Children learn chess best if they begin playing at an early age, Welk said, because the spatial skills required, such as language skills, are tied to stages of brain development.

The game has been linked to academic achievement but it has other benefits, he said.

 “Kids learn to slow things down and think through good moves,” Welk said. “And chess club builds confidence. It helps students learn how to win and lose and be good sports. It also fosters interaction among different age groups.”

 This year, high school seniors Sam Frishman and Nirvan Tyagi are the club’s lead coaches. Welk said they took over when an adult coach had to step down, and they’re already grooming younger high school students and middle school students to take over their roles.

 “I started playing chess because of this club,” said Frishman, who attended Fellows as an elementary student. “I plan to play chess for the rest of my life. I’m motivated to coach the kids because it’s a way for me to give back.”

Kathy Hanson can be reached at (515) 663-6933 or