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Chess Queens at Daniels Run

Annual all-female tournament encourages girls to play chess.

Guarding her queen against the opponent’s attack, third-grader Veronica Baptista uses all her chess pieces as a block. Caroline Esmaili, a second-grader, distracts her opponent with a decoy piece, and then goes in for the capture. Classmate Lexy Eccles prefers using a rook and a pawn to make a diagonal attack.

The Daniels Run Elementary School students brought out their best moves at the All-Girls Chess Tournament Thursday, Feb. 2. The event brought together girls from chess clubs at Daniels Run, Oak View, Fairview and Canterbury Woods elementary schools.

The All-Girls Chess Tournament is not run like a standard U.S. Chess Federation challenge, with timers and rankings and complicated rules, said Sharon Buttram, chess club moderator at Daniels Run. The format, where the girls plays three games each and all receive medals at the tournament’s end, emphasizes having fun over winning at all costs, said Buttram.

"It's a silly game boys play, saying, 'Oh, I'm going to beat you,'" said Oak View chess club moderator Roshna Kapadia. Girls respond better to appreciation of the game rather than pure competition, she said.

For Lexy, the chess game is all about fun. A few years ago, she discovered a chess board and pieces at her house and asked her father, Tom, to show her how to play. He bested her the first few times, said Lexy, but she learned quickly and was soon winning games.

"I mostly care about having fun, but sometimes I like to win," she said.

TO SHARPEN her skills, Lexy often draws practice diagrams on paper in school, and practices with her father at home. It helps that her best friend, Caroline, is also in the Daniels Run chess club, said Lexy.

"Chess helps you think better," she said. "It's a good way to learn to do things, like be concentrated."

Caroline agreed. She and Lexy play soccer together, she said, but a chess game requires a different style of thinking and playing.

"You learn how to think twice, because other people might have a plan and spoil your plan," said Caroline. Sometimes, this means predicting another player's move and blocking them from doing that, she said, and sometimes it means using tricks like a decoy or the "castle" move, where the king and rook move at the same time.

One of the benefits of chess, said Caroline, is the friendships it creates.

"You get to make new friends you have never seen in school, and you get to play chess," she said.

According to Veronica, chess has helped her schoolwork improve. "You get smarter in school," she said.

Veronica, whose favorite school subject is math, has been playing chess for two years. She practices by herself at home, she said, because even though her family members do not play chess, playing chess is often the only thing she wants to do. At chess club, said Veronica, she can play chess, make friends and eat pizza.

"At this one tournament, there was this girl and she was unstoppable," said Veronica. "But then I realized that I had to get all her pieces and her king … then I did it. I beat her."

There is a proven relationship between playing chess and success in school, said Buttram.

"There's more math going on here than they realize," she said.

Kapadia agreed. "At school, when they talk about the benefits of certain things like math, that is all academic," she said. "But this is play."

The game also helps develop sportsmanship in children, she said. First-graders who have just learned how to play chess often cry the first few times they lose, she said. But after a while, they begin to realize that every loss is just another chance to learn.

"I tell them, 'There's always another game just around the corner,'" said Buttram.

In her own experience, said Canterbury Woods chess club moderator Wendy Wander, girls and boys show the same aptitude for the game. But as girls get older, she said, they tend to stop playing and going to tournaments.

"It might have been because girls didn't like the competition," she said.

In fact, said Wander, the all-girl tournament began three years ago because girls were not signing up for local chess competitions. So parents and club moderators gathered and developed an event with more of an emphasis on sportsmanship and enjoyment of the game.

About 20 percent of the Canterbury Woods chess club's members are female, said Wander. But she has also seen an increase of the number of girls playing chess in her club.

The Daniels Run chess club has also seen an increase, said Buttram. "I think something's working, once we show them chess is not just for boys," she said.