The U.S. Chess Center teaches chess to children in the D.C. metro area as a means of improving their academic and social skills.
As we enter our fourth decade, we are finding new ways to reach more students. Since 1992, we have taught the game to close to 40,000 schoolchildren representing more than one hundred fifty schools in the National Capital Area.
In 2017, the Center was honored with a Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition from Representative Jamie Raskin for our high-quality programs on the occasion of our 25th anniversary. Many studies have indicated that learning chess at a young age is highly correlated with academic achievement. A 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the Chess Center focuses on children in need in Washington, D.C., and its surrounding jurisdictions.
As a nonprofit charity, we keep our fees low and no child has ever been turned away because of an inability to pay. Through your generous donations, we teach chess to children who are unable otherwise to afford our services, giving them the thinking skills they will use for life.
The Chess Center offers weekend chess classes, chess camps, scholastic tournaments, and classroom-based chess training. The Chess Center also supports school chess clubs and works closely with public, charter and private schools in the Washington, D.C., region to promote chess. Our program teaches students to make positive choices and produces people who can enter higher education or the work force with the critical thinking skills they need to succeed. The foundation we help children build improves their academic and social skills.
The U.S. Chess Center teaches chess to children and teens as a means of improving their academic and social skills.
We provide students from throughout the Washington metropolitan area opportunities to meet as friends and equals over the chessboard at our weekend classes, tournaments, and special events. Our student programs have hosted World Champion Garry Kasparov, the national champions of Nigeria and Montenegro, and International Grandmasters including Maurice Ashley, the first African-American Grandmaster. Our students have played Internet matches with students from the Czech Republic, China, Norway, and Montenegro.
The concept for the U.S. Chess Center started in 1989 when World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov came to Washington, D.C., to introduce the idea of using chess to battle drug use among children. He secured support for two weeks of summer chess camp for 50 children living in public housing developments held at the Capital Children’s Museum. David Mehler, then a practicing attorney and now the President & Founder of the U.S. Chess Center, taught the camp, which received great reviews from the participating students and the media.
The children who learned chess thrived on the game, starting chess clubs upon returning to their schools in the fall. Their teachers were impressed with the students’ newfound interest in intellectual subjects and encouraged more chess activity.
The following summer another series of chess camps for District youth was run at the Museum. Again, the program was a great success. Children from the camps started chess clubs at their schools. Teachers noted that students' behavior improved upon learning chess.
Feeling that chess could serve many valuable goals, several community leaders started forming the idea that was to become the U.S. Chess Center.
Our goals included:
- Improving academic skills and test scores.
- Increasing children’s attention spans.
- Teaching young people that they have control over much of their environment, so that the decisions that they make will have consequences in the future, even if not all of those consequences are immediately apparent.
- Bringing together students from a wide range of backgrounds in a safe, fun setting.
- Increasing students' self-confidence.
- Awakening an interest in learning and achievement in students of all ages.
- Improving the resiliency of youths so that they avoid negative temptations.
After an intensive year of work, in the summer of 1992, the third session of the summer camp became the initial program of the newly established U.S. Chess Center. Since then, the U.S. Chess Center has offered a wide range of classes in various locations in the city and its suburbs.
Read letters from teachers and former students explaining how chess taught them invaluable skills to succeed in school and in life.
Staff & Teachers
Christopher McCleary, Executive Director
Chris McCleary is the Executive Director of the U.S. Chess Center and returns to scholastic chess after many years. While a student in high school, Chris founded and managed his school’s chess club and captained the school’s team to victory in the county championships. Chris is an experienced non-profit executive and seasoned fundraiser and has held senior management roles for a variety of non-profit organizations in and around Washington, DC, including cultural institutions, advocacy organizations, and think tanks. Before embarking on his non-profit career, Chris spent over a decade as a political consultant and fundraiser for dozens of campaigns across the country ranging from state judges to president. Chris is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and grew up in the South. During his time working in politics and fundraising, he has lived in many diverse places, but he and his family now live in Northern Virginia.
David Mehler, Founder/President/Teacher
David Mehler is the Founder and President of the U.S. Chess Center. One of the first nationally certified professional chess coaches, Mehler has been teaching chess for more than 45 years and has trained all of the U.S. Chess Center's teachers. His lesson plans, available on this website, are in use in dozens of chess programs throughout the country and internationally. His students range from beginners through national champions. He is the 2012 recipient of the United States Chess Federation's Scholastic Service Award and about twenty times was named Chess Coach of the Year in Virginia. An attorney by profession, Mr. Mehler has also been a high school and middle school classroom teacher.
Jeffrey Kramer, Executive Coordinator
Jeff Kramer has degrees in philosophy and law. He worked as an attorney in Washington for many years, specializing first in criminal defense and later in cases involving neglected or abused children. He also played numerous chess games at local clubs and in tournaments. Jeff is convinced that chess, when taught the right way, can help kids develop important skills and attributes.
Justin Swain, Teacher
Justin Swain has helped to run chess clubs and tournaments in the Washington D.C. area since joining the U.S. Chess Center as an instructor in early 2012. A graduate of St. Mary's College in southern Maryland, Justin has enjoyed chess as a pastime since he first learned to play in elementary school. After becoming acquainted with the U.S. Chess Center, he gained a new appreciation for the value of chess in an educational setting. Justin continues to be surprised at how chess helps to sharpen his students' minds, and the extent to which they can use problem-solving skills they have acquired through the game to succeed in the classroom.
Robert Teachey, Teacher
Robert Teachey, a nationally certified Advanced Chess Coach, has been a U.S. Chess Center teacher since 2010 and for three years served as its executive director. Before immersing himself in chess, Mr. Teachey designed electronic data communications systems. While an undergraduate, he taught electronics to high school students. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Norman Constantine, Teacher
Norman Constantine, a nationally certified chess coach, has been a classroom teacher for over 40 years in exclusive independent schools, teaching math and computer science. He has been involved with scholastic chess both as a teacher and organizer since 1984. His programs developed two Maryland State high school champions, the first female middle school champion, and team championships in elementary and middle school. Constantine joined the U.S. Chess Center as a teacher in 2013. He loves to work with the little guys and girls.
Dan Maxwell, Teacher
Dan Maxwell has the title of national master. After playing chess in many parts of the US and Europe as a representative of his school, his college, the army, or various chess clubs, he finds teaching chess to children to be a learning experience for himself as well as for his students. He believes this incredible experience merits his enthusiasm and dedication.
Board of Directors
Dr. Derrick L. Cogburn, Executive Director, Institute on Disability and Public Policy; Faculty Director, Internet Governance Lab; and Professor, School of International Service and Kogod School of Business, American University
Leonard Haynes, Executive Director, retired, White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges
Akshay Indusekar, Secretary, U.S. Chess Center; Founder, Chess Adaptive Reconditioning Program, U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command
David Mehler, Founder and President, U.S. Chess Center
Dr. Pablo Molina, Chief Information Officer, Association of American Law Schools
Anthony Priest, Chief Operating Officer, Washington Education Zone
Marc Rotenberg, Chairman of the Board, U.S. Chess Center