Frank Maguire, 90, plays a game of chess in his west Dearborn home. The nonagenarian taught his son, Mike, to play 50 years ago, and Mike in turn has taught scores of students the game as a chess coach in Indiana. Elizabeth Barbieri -- For The Press & Guide

Checkmate: Nonagenarian chess whiz influences generations of players
Published: Sunday, August 14, 2016
By Elizabeth Barbieri
For The Press & Guide

In the middle of a mint green-painted, floral-bordered dining room, standing next to a wooden antique table in a house on Dearborn’s west side, is Frank Maguire, a 90-year-old chess whiz who credits the game with keeping his brain active and alert.

Maguire is wearing gray dress slacks, a button-down blue shirt and tie, and, despite the high temperature outside and no air conditioning inside, a proper yellow sweater vest.

He stands proudly, almost lovingly, next to a blue-and-cream-colored chessboard that waits for a new game. Next to the board on the table, an earmarked copy of the Bible is propped on a stand.

“God has been good to me,” he says.

Maguire first learned how to play chess decades ago in the eighth grade, and in 1966, taught his then-10-year-old son Mike Maguire, one of six children, how to play.

“I could grasp at a young age the concepts, and the pieces, and the relationships between pieces,” Mike Maguire said

His father said his other children weren’t that enthused about playing.

“Maybe if it were checkers, or Chinese checkers,” joked his daughter, Colleen, who is impressed with both her father’s skill in the game and her brother’s passion for coaching.

Mike Maguire in turn took his love and knowledge of chess to Evansville, Ind., where he now teaches four teams at four schools — Oak Hill Elementary, Scott Elementary, North Junior High and North High School.

“Mike’s so enthusiastic,” Colleen said. “He makes a great coach.”

There are unique shirts for the kids in each school with the slogan: “It started in 1966!” on the back to commemorate the year Mike learned from Frank how to play chess.

“My wife five years ago asked if isn’t it time I retire,” Mike said. “But I can never not be the chess coach. It was an easy choice to stay.”

Being the chess coach has given Mike a chance to turn something he learned from his father into a game that he in turn can teach young children.

“In recent years, at those four schools, we’ve had over 150 students participating each year,” Mike said. “This includes playing in local tournaments, with several teams each year playing in the Scholastic Chess of Indiana State Championships.”

Several times a year, Mike visits his father for two weeks at a time, and they have been known to play up to three games of chess a day. Sometimes those games can last up to four hours.

“In 2011, after my mom passed away, Dad was depressed, and he was not playing well,” Mike said. “At that point, I taught him strategies that he never knew, and now he’s playing better than ever.”

Frank believes these strategies have helped him stay mentally focused as he ages, but also recommends that younger generations should play chess.

“For younger people, it helps your brain and helps with other classes,” he said. “For older people, it keeps you alert, and definitely stops your brain from deteriorating.”

Chess has been shown to improve children’s cognition and senior citizen’s mental acuity.

“Dad holds his own,” Mike said. “With no formal training until he was in his 80s, Dad is a good example of an old dog learning new tricks. After getting lessons from me, Dad has added some effective strategies to his chess playing repertoire. This has helped to keep Dad mentally sharp and he is one of the best nonagenarian chess players around.”

Frank sits at the table in his usual spot, in front of the Bible, close to the board. He explains that each player has 16 pieces and that there are countless strategies on how to play them.

“It’s complicated and exciting,” he said.

He grins and patiently names the pieces, showing which ones can move in which directions across the board, until someone is in checkmate, which is basically holding the opponent’s king in hostage from which it cannot move or escape.

“You’re thinking of the next move and the next move after that, based on what your opponent does,” Mike said. “You have to think analytically, and it gives you problem-solving skills.”

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