Lately I have been reading the posts of Peace Corps Volunteers currently serving in Morocco. It was a pleasure to see that a couple of them have formed chess teams, and recently had a competition.
Chess is a terrific game for kids. It requires little investment in equipment, it is easy to learn, it teaches important life skills, and it probably improves a student’s cognitive abilities. It is a truly international game, and, in fact, FIDE is the third largest sports federation in the world. Chess notation has become an international language. Girls have the same ability as boys.
I took a chess book with me as a volunteer, but, like my Russian language text, I never looked at it much. I don’t think I took a chess set, though I did play in training. I never knew anyone in Sefrou who played. Now I wish I had. Later in my life, I did play café chess for a while in Chauen.
While in the Peace Corps I had some Yugoslav friends, including Peter Kustovitch, who worked in agriculture in Fes, and knew many volunteers. There were also Yugoslav students studying at the Qarawiyin University, as well as a Yugoslav doctor in Boulemane. They all played chess much better than I did, and I could have had fun and improved my game. Peter was from Montenegro, and I hope he did not get caught up in the Balkan Wars of the Nineties.
I played chess in high school, and at other points in my life, and I never lost interest in the game. When I began teaching, I started a chess club at my high school, and continued it for about 20 years. In 2011, the school entered an interscholastic league, managed by Rochester Chess, and began competing with other schools. We always did well, but needed a bit more support, which my former school district, in conjunction with the police athletic league, are now providing.
In my last year of teaching, there were four exchange students, all Muslim. They hailed from Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, and Indonesia. As one might expect, they were a diverse group.
I convinced two of them to join our scholastic chess team. Our first board had graduated, and our best player was our third board from the previous year. I guessed that the Kyrgyz might play well, coming from a former Soviet Republic, and so he could. He made the difference between a good and a mediocre season. And he turned out to be a truly nice person.
Dylan, by the way, was the previous year’s team’s first board, and virtually inhaled pizza!