Chess for Success tournament tries to beat perceptions about the game
By Allan Brettman, The Oregonian
November 07, 2009, 6:32PM

Jerryd Bayless, Phillip Margolin and Susan Polgar. Remember those names.

Linda Hu and Camille Franklin don’t know any of them, but they do know chess.

This morning, 8-year-old Hu, a Woodstock Elementary third-grader, and 9-year-old Franklin, a Vernon Elementary fourth-grader, hunched over a vinyl chess mat. Their rapid moves on the board and shoving arms somehow imitated a fencing match.

With countering claims of “check,” it was over and Hu thrust her right arm in the air — the signal to call a tournament judge.

In the bigger scheme of things, both Hu and Franklin, were victors, along with about 70 other participants in the girls-only Chess for Success practice tournament at Harold Oliver Primary.

The gymnasium floor in the school on Portland’s east side was half filled with lunch tables covered with chess mats. Parents on folding chairs filled the other half.

Chess for Success executive director Julie Young watched the action from the perimeter.

Chess, she said, has long been perceived as a men’s sport.

Today’s event and Chess for Success try to erode that perception, though the nonprofit program has more boys than girls.

Other youth chess programs may emphasize strategy and the importance of winning. That’s not Chess for Success’ game.

“The main thing is,” Young said, “we want it to be fun and social.”

The program targets schools with a high proportion of children receiving free or reduced-price lunch. With the help of a Meyer Memorial Trust grant, it was launched in 1992 in nine schools. Today, it’s in 87 far-flung schools, mostly in the metro area, and reaches about 3,400 children a year.

As for Bayless, Margolin and Polgar? All linked by chess, Young said.

Bayless is a Trail Blazers basketball player. Plays a mean game of chess, too, and along with Mona Lisa, he is one of the subjects of promotional posters for Chess for Success.

He’s not a mollycoddler when it comes to playing the impressionable youngers.

“He plays to win,” Young said.

Margolin of Portland seems to always have a best-selling thriller on The New York Times’ list.

For 17 years, until June, he was president of Chess for Success. The novelist credits chess with transforming his approach to school as a young man.

“He says,” Young said, “‘We trick kids because they think they’re just going to play a game and we teach them how to think.'”

And Polgar is regarded as among the best female chess players in the world.

The Hungarian native is director of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Texas Tech University.

And she heads a foundation that promotes chess, her Web site says, “with all of its educational, social and competitive benefits … for young people of all ages, especially girls.”


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