Chess Center News

Meet the Chess Center Team: Georgina Chin, Teacher

Bam! Bam bam!

As a teenager, the sound of palms slapping analog clocks would reverberate throughout our house for hours at a time. In the living room, a row of chess trophies sat on a shelf, witnessing my two younger brothers battling over a well-worn chessboard for hours at a time. Yet, despite the number of hours devoted to chess in my household, I was relatively removed from this activity — chess was something that girls didn’t really do.

Many years later, my interaction with chess was reignited by a challenge I faced as a teacher at McNair Elementary school in Herndon, Virginia: coming up with creative challenging ways to engage my students. At the time, McNair was a Title I school with many students receiving free and reduced lunches, so I was especially interested in a low-cost mentally engaging activity that might not otherwise have been available to them. Although I had not played for many years, I knew chess was definitely the avenue to pursue.

Luckily, thanks to my brothers’ ongoing interest in chess (both were holding outside jobs as chess coaches), I was able to consult them on how I might get started. With the support of my principal and the PTA I purchased some chess sets, a few books, and a teaching board. McNair’s first chess club was on its way! Much to my surprise and delight, initial interest greatly exceeded my expectations.

Fast forward ten years and the chess club remained hugely popular. With the club being consistently offered throughout the years, many McNair students had become skilled players, and several of them could now play beyond my abilities. Meanwhile, McNair had also changed and was now an Advanced Academics school.

Perhaps inspired by memories of the chess trophies sitting on the living room shelf, I thought it might be time to push the chess club in a more competitive direction. The parents supported this idea, and in 2011 we ventured off to the Virginia Scholastic Chess Championships where we placed ninth and fourteenth in the K-3 and K-5 divisions. The kids, their parents, and the rest of the school were thrilled!

At the urging of some of the parents as well as the PTA, I began organizing monthly USCF (US Chess Federation) rated tournaments at McNair. The only catch for me was that, to become a local Tournament Director, I had to start competing myself — a true eye-opener! My first tournament convinced me that I still had much to learn about the game.

Last year I retired from Fairfax County. During my 20 years at McNair I had the pleasure of working with hundreds of students and organizing more than 80 tournaments. I am happy and proud of all my students accomplished as well as how many of them were introduced to an experience they might never have encountered. My hope is that all of my students will continue to play and enjoy all that chess has to offer. As for myself, I am still learning and competing!

Meet the Chess Center Team: Robert Teachey, Teacher

After observing me tutor students in mathematics at a library, a librarian asked me to start a chess club.  Initially, I believed that it would be easy for me to meet this obligation.  My first step was to read the official rules of chess.  I was surprised to learn that even though I had played chess irregularly since elementary school, I had not been playing by the rules.

Daaim Shabazz, founder of The Chess Drum online magazine

During the first chess club meeting I noticed that the chess club members’ enthusiasm for the game was markedly different from the typical student’s enthusiasm for mathematics.  After the first few chess club meetings, I was surprised to discover that teaching chess is more challenging than teaching mathematics.  Fortuitously, renowned chess educator Fernando Moreno, author of the book Teaching Life Skills Through Chess: A Guide for Educators and Counselors, facilitated a chess club at a community center that was next door to the library.  When he heard about the new library chess club, he kindly introduced himself to me and donated sorely needed resources, including a demonstration board.  After visiting Mr. Moreno’s chess club and losing game after game to his students, I realized that I had much to learn.

GM Timur Gareyev after he defeated me in a blindfold simul

Step by step I became engrossed in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area chess scene by visiting different chess clubs including the U.S. Chess Center.  I played casually for approximately 9 years before entering my first chess tournament.  I should have followed the advice of others who told me “You love the game, go ahead and play in a rated tournament”, however I believed that I was not ready to deal with the chess clock and the process of recording the moves.  After playing in my first tournament, I understood that 10 additional years would not have made any difference because playing tournament chess is like swimming, one must simply dive in.

Meet the Chess Center Team: Norman Constantine, Teacher

I started to play chess over 60 years ago. I will continue to play as long as I can set up the pieces. I am not a super player for sure, but I can play a solid game. Chess has made a significant difference in my life. I am a better teacher because I play chess.

I started to play when I was about 8 years old. The older kids on my block taught me how to play so that they had someone to beat. They defeated me for quite awhile but I got better each time I played a game. I still remember like it was yesterday the first time I won a game. I ran off Hankey Pauley’s front porch all the way down the street shouting and yelling to tell my mother!! I was so happy!

It made me want to read books about chess. There were a few books in the local library and all the kids on the street fought over them. We all got chess sets to play with, most of them cheap plastic designs with hollow pieces and masonite boards. I filled my pieces with plaster of paris so that they were heavy enough to stay on the boards outside in the wind. I used to read Treasury of Chess Lore under the covers with a flashlight after lights out.

Next my friends and I wanted to learn more so we all signed up at the Buffalo Museum of Science for chess lessons. We all gathered together every Saturday morning and rode the city bus across the city to the museum. In the winter we brought out snow saucers with us and rode them down the  large hill that was being built for the new City Expressway. It was wonderful. Everything was about chess and no one was telling us what to do. We learned to take care of ourselves.

I will always remember my chess teacher from the Museum. He only had three fingers on his move hand (no thumb) and used to throw the pieces – it seemed – across the board but they all landed where they were supposed to be. We played every Friday night at each other’s houses and every Saturday Morning at the museum. We took turns.

After the museum we all wanted to go to the Queen City Chess Club in downtown Buffalo, NY. I didn’t go. My parents didn’t want me to go down there on Friday night so they offered me a new catcher’s glove in lieu of the dues to the club. Baseball was my other love (girls were coming) and I sort of deserted chess for it. I ignored chess for a few years but I never forgot it.

I rediscovered chess in high school and made the school team in senior year. I watched Johnny Bench play his first game in Buffalo and knew I was never going to be a major leaguer. I joined the USCF at 19 and finally became a member of the Queen City Chess Club. I still watch baseball but I play chess!

Meet the Chess Center Team: David Mehler, Founder/President/Teacher

David MehlerThe seeds of my love of teaching were planted in college — not because I had inspirational professors, but through my experiences as a founder of the Pail & Shovel Party. (Google it. I was gone by the time the flamingos landed and the Statue of Liberty arrived, but was involved with the conceptual stage.) Pail & Shovel taught me that anything can be turned into entertainment, entertainment holds people’s attention, and through that attention, education takes place.

During the lead-up to the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match I first became a chess teacher. I was a decent player devoid of teaching experience but after a while found ways to impart the rules and strategy of the game to kids who quickly passed me in skill.

After college, I became a high school classroom teacher with classes in social studies and math. I was the fun teacher in a conservative Catholic school, but always had the goal of getting students to think. When struggling students came to me for additional help, I taught them to play chess and watched as their intellectual self-confidence rose. Inner-city teens who had heard throughout their lifetimes that they would not be able to succeed academically learned that was a lie. If they could play chess, they could do math and understand literature.

During my practice of law, I brought chess to underserved schools, working to convince small children that there was magic in the pieces of plastic they moved around the square board. As they assimilated abstract concepts, their smiles of understanding were more satisfying than favorable verdicts in courtrooms.

When then-World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov asked me to teach chess for a couple of weeks to children who lived in public housing, that was the start of something quite wonderful. The Washington Post editorial noting the value of chess garnered the attention of people who helped create what has become the U.S. Chess Center. I stopped taking new legal clients and never looked back.

 

US Chess Center provides chess sets to classes and students who need them

We are very happy to have provided chess sets to three schools in the past few months so that teachers and students have physical chess sets with which to learn and play.

In fact, some of the chess sets we recently distributed were used by Grand Master Lubomir Kavalek, one of the best players in the world.  GM Kavalek’s widow donated them to us after he passed away in January

Please consider supporting our mission with a charitable donation online (via credit or debit card), or by making an in-kind contribution of new or gently used (preferably tournament-style) chess sets.

Mrs. Bullock displays the chess book and sets she received for her 4th grade class.

Chris McCleary joins the U.S. Chess Center as Executive Director

Chris McCleary has been appointed the new Executive Director of the U.S. Chess Center.

The U.S. Chess Center is a DC-based non-profit that teaches students, especially at-risk youth, to play chess in order to improve their academic and social skills.  The U.S. Chess Center provides students throughout the Washington metropolitan area opportunities to meet as friends and equals over the chessboard at our weekend classes, tournaments, and special events. The Center also operates numerous embedded school chess clubs and classes.  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.

“I’m excited to be joining the U.S. Chess Center in this leadership role and look forward to continuing and expanding the programs we offer to area students. Chess was a meaningful part of my own academic life and had a positive impact on me. I’m proud that I’ll be doing my part to bring the benefits of chess to more students.”
Chris McCleary
Executive Director, U.S. Chess Center

Chris McCleary’s first official day with the U.S. Chess Center will be Monday, August 17th.  As Executive Director, McCleary will have responsibility for the day-to-day management and administration of the Center as well as resource and program development.  McCleary will be taking over from Robert Teachey, a United States Chess Federation Certified Advanced Chess Coach who was promoted to Executive Director of the Chess Center in 2017 and has served as a Teacher since 2010.  

Prior to joining the U.S. Chess Center, Chris McCleary served as the Vice President of Development for Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) and in the same position for SAFE’s sister organization, The Electrification Coalition.  McCleary is also the Chief Operating Officer of McCleary Psychological Services, a mental health practice that provides evidence-based therapy and psychological evaluations.  Chris also previously served as Development Director and chief fundraiser for the National Archives Foundation—the 501(c)(3) nonprofit partner of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)—and before that he held a series of senior management and fundraising roles with several DC-area think tanks and advocacy organizations, including Third Way, the Sunlight Foundation, and NDN & the New Policy Institute.  Before embarking on his non-profit career, McCleary spent over a decade as a political consultant and fundraiser for dozens of campaigns across the country.  McCleary holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University.