Chess keeps kids confident and alert
by Lisa Fogarty , Editor

When Lilliana Manta’s son Michael was just 5, she walked into his bedroom to find him focused on completing an en passant — a rarely used chess strategy that involves capturing a pawn shifted two squares from its starting position — a move that can confound even adult aficionados.

“I’m not a chess player so I thought he was making it up,” Manta said.

As it turns out, Michael was just starting to sharpen his skills. Two years later, the Howard Beach family, including 5-year-old Jonathan, has fallen head over heels for the game, so much so that they’ve traveled out of state to allow the boys to compete in chess tournaments.

At the 2010 Burt Lerner Elementary Chess National Championship in Atlanta two weekends ago, Michael placed 35th in his division, while Jonathan — who is only in Pre-K and has only been playing the game since November — placed 39th in the kindergarten and first grade division.

“I like chess because it’s a really fun game and there are many things you can get at tournaments like trophies, ribbons and medals,” Michael said.

His parents say winning isn’t the important thing — it’s more about giving their children confidence and a great experience.

“Chess has become part of their lives,” Manta said. “It’s given them memory, skills and concentration. It’ll prepare them for life and show them there’s nothing they can’t do.”

Manta and her husband didn’t start out with the goal of turning their sons into chess masters. They purchased a laptop for Michael when he was 3, loaded it with educational programs, one of which was a rudimentary chess game, and let him play at his own pace. The toddler made up his mind quickly and one game became his obvious favorite.

“He thought chess was the coolest thing in the world,” Manta said. “He got into the battle and army part of it.”

The family introduced younger brother Jonathan to the game as a way of ensuring he didn’t feel left out when they took Michael to games and tournaments. The Pre-K student not only displayed a natural talent for chess, he started to develop a healthy, boisterous competitive side, as well.

“He asks me to play chess with him and tells me he promises to take it easy on me,” Manta laughs.

Jonathan says his big brother is his ideal playing partner. “I like playing against Michael because I can practice,” he said. “I’ve won a few times.”

Falling for the game was the easy part; finding resources such as chess classes in Queens, as well as other children in the borough who share their hobby, proved a challenge, Manta said. For a few months, the children were enrolled in the Susan Polgar Chess Center in Forest Hills, but the school shut down in January. Next, they began trekking into Manhattan to attend sessions at NY Chess Kids, where they were able to meet other children who love the game and attend chess camp and tournaments with them.

The brothers, who attend PS 146 and play guitar and keyboards in addition to chess, say they would love to make friends in the area who share their passion, and Manta hopes their wish will come true soon. She has been in contact with Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) to request he look into funding for the Project Chess program, which has already been implemented in several city schools.

“It’s such a shame we haven’t seen it a lot in Queens,” Manta said. “I think if there’s a lot more interest it would be nice to start a chess club for them. My kids would love it and I know others would benefit from it.”

Here is the full article.

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