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SARTELL, Minn. — Some may think chess is boring and too difficult, but many students who are members of clubs across the country couldn’t care less what others may think of it.

Chances are most of them have only one thing on their mind: fun. But many educators believe there is a correlation between the thought-provoking pastime and how well a student does in life.

“Chess teaches them not so much the movement of the pieces but what your opponent can throw at you … preparing for the unforeseen by trying to predict … just like life,” said Josh Bentley, a volunteer chess instructor at Sartell Middle School.

Chess is now inspiring second and third-grade students around the country thanks to a program from America’s Foundation for Chess: First Move. The award-winning program introduces chess as a learning tool to teach critical thinking skills, and build self-esteem and confidence.

“Chess is like a more advanced form of checkers. You have to use lots of strategy. And it can help your grades a lot, too. I’ve noticed my grades improve,” said Harris, a Sartell student in the chess club, which is not part of the First Move program.

In 2010, First Move celebrated its 10th anniversary by engaging more than 50,000 students in almost 2,000 classrooms across 27 states. In 2011, America’s Foundation for Chess (AF4C) plans to expand the program to an additional 30,000 students nationwide.

“In nearly 30 nations around the world, chess is integrated into the country’s scholastic curriculum,” AF4C Executive Director Wendi Fischer said in relation to First Move, which began in 2000 and was introduced to its first classrooms in the Seattle area a few years later.

According to a study conducted by Education Northwest in 2009, more than half of First Move parents found learning chess helped improve their child’s grades and more than 62 percent credited the chess education program with improving their child’s attitude toward school.

“In the U.S., despite numerous studies that demonstrate the impact chess education can have on cognitive and critical thinking skills, chess is rarely incorporated into American schools,” Fischer said.