Grandmasters of chess in St. Peter

Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013 3:37 pm


With two kings and a rook on the board, St. Peter Grandmaster of Chess students learned one of the simplest ways to checkmate on Thursday afternoon, resting their chins in their hands as they considered the black and white checked board. 

“The least material you can check with is a rook and a lone king against a lone king,” instructor Brian Combs explained. 

The students continued to study the board. 

“Who can tell me where to move the pieces?” Combs asked. 

For students in the St. Peter Youth and Enrichment League class, Grandmasters of Chess, strategy is learned. 

Taught everything from basic piece movement and checkmate patterns to strong openings, discovered checks and back rank mates, students in the class are taught curriculum-based chess based on studied concepts and game analyzation. 

“You layer the levels of difficulty to layer the level of learning,” Combs said. 

Combs said he has been teaching chess for 15 years, eight years in Mankato and one year for the Youth Enrichment League. 

“I do see great improvement [over the course of the class],” Combs said. 

“Having curriculum based instruction does accelerate the learning.” 

But for the six third- and fourth-graders seated in the basement of North Intermediate, chess is more than just strategy. It is a fun way to end the school day. 

“It’s just a really fun game and when I learned to play it I really liked it,” said third-grader Madeline Winsell. 

Winsell has been playing chess for almost two months now and is already familiar with all the pieces and the different ways they can move across the board. 

One of her classmates and another third grader, Luke Borowy, said he’s been playing since he was 5 or 6 years old. 

“It has a lot of strategy and it has all the different pieces and they can all do something different,” Borowy said.

George Ailsby, also in the third grade, said he joined the class because he can remember playing chess in a cabin with his dad when he was younger. His dad made a deal with him and told him if he became a “grandmaster” he would buy him a new chess set. 

“We have an old rusty one in the basement,” Ailsby said. “I want one that folds up and I can put in my pocket.” 

Other students are taking the class for a second time. Fourth-grade student Connor Snay said he has learned a lot of tricks, but still has more to learn. 

“I’m not an expert,” Snay said. “But, I am pretty good at it. I like a lot of games with strategy in them. Chess has a lot of that.”

Another fourth-grader, Levi Powers, is also taking the class for a second time.

“It’s fun taking other people’s queens away,” Powers said. “It’s basically a fight to the win.” 

Willem Nelsen missed class on Thursday but played in a tournament sponsored by the South Central Service Cooperation with Snay on Dec. 27. The tournament was a Swiss-style tournament in which students were not eliminated. 

Snay placed in second among the fourth-grade students and Nelsen, a third grader, won an honorable mention. Fifth-grade student Benny Combs tied for third place in the upper division competition. 

Combs said the Cooperative hosts about five tournaments a year. All players receive a participation certificate. Ribbons were also awarded to students placing first through third in their grade level. Medals were awarded to first through fourth place primary, elementary and upper division champions.

The students meet every Thursday after school to play chess. Grandmasters of Chess is also offered to kindergarten, first- and second-grade students. The younger class, which meets on Tuesdays, is currently attended by three students. 

Combs said though his students may not become grandmasters of the game, there are other reasons for joining the class. Getting to make new friends and having fun playing chess are just two of them. 

“I get to play with my friends,” Powers said. “It’s the only thing we do, basically. I usually have to teach everybody I play with. It’s also fun learning from friends.” 


Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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