Make Your Move
By Mary Anne Balmuth

Academic Chess. The name sounds serious. Intimidating eve. When one of my children brought home a flyer from kindergarten describing after-school lessons and weekend tournaments, I wondered just how many kids would want to sign up. A few phone calls elicited an amazing answer. Thousands of kids in Orange County, San Diego and Los Angeles are already participating. Friday night tournaments, held at various schools, feature 200 kids each, ages 5 and up. Grouped by ability, players compete in up to 12 games a night, get ranked under US Chess Federation rules, win trophies, and eat pizza. Kids in my neighborhood have begun to sign up, and to practice in clusters on my street corner. Huddled over chess boards, they take turns trying to outwit each other. What parent wouldn't love it? "Kids stay with our program because they have fun," Eric Hicks, founder of Academic Chess says, explaining the popularity of his group. "We teach them and let them play.

Under traditional approaches, kids learn the skills, then have to sit around at all-day tournaments and play only a couple of games. We don't believe in wasting time." Hicks, who credits chess with helping him overcome ADD and successfully complete a degree at Berkeley, originally taught chess to inner city kids in Oakland before moving to Orange County. He and his instructors describe the benefits of the game for all kids: increased attention spans, and better critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Not to mention the thrill of, say, moving your Queen to Bishop's 6 for check and mate! For more information about after-school or summer programs through Academic Chess, call (949) 770-9720.