Checkmate! Chess Activity Fun New Challenge for 8th Grade Boys

Given the extreme trials of this past year, any victory won in the fight for normalcy should not be minimized. This year at BJP, students and faculty have worked to restore what we can of our normal routines--while remaining as safe as possible. Obviously, as a school, our primary focus must always be classroom learning; however, I think it’s important to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our patterns of play just as much as it did our patterns of work--or, in this case, schoolwork. That BJP provides a space for both is no secret, and in serving as the 8th Grade Boys’ homeroom teacher this year the deep importance of extracurricular learning has only been made more apparent to me.

Sports and Activities is a crucial element of the BJP experience; however, as with everything else this year, it had to be adapted to square with the realities of the pandemic. Unjustly robbed of their basketball season, the 8th Grade Boys were faced with the question of how to spend their Sports and Activities time in the winter months.

​Popular culture, in the end, supplied the answer, and they settled on chess. I confess, as of writing this I have not seen The Queen’s Gambit. Still, I credit the show for putting chess in the cultural conversation, and for ultimately leading BJP’s 8th Grade Boys to a rewarding pursuit in these cold winter months.

​I consider this a special group of young men for innumerable reasons. Still, one easily stated reason is their tendency to push one another to be better. This group came into the 8th Grade with a class-culture that values achievement. As such, chess has been a natural fit for them. It is not a game in which they, or I, had any expertise, but it is a game which we have been able to learn collaboratively. Driven as they are, this group of boys looks to each match as a learning opportunity--even if today it’s just learning how to ‘castle’ properly.

​Still, like many girls and boys their age, they are also motivated by a spirit of competition--a friendly one, I hasten to add. Over the past weeks we have found joy and humor in winning and in losing, in talking smack and whining about our mistakes. To quote Bobby Fischer: “That's what chess is all about. One day you give your opponent a lesson, the next day they give you one,” and we’ve enjoyed our afternoons giving lessons to one another. In a time of uncertainty and restriction, chess has provided us a structured, yet liberating, space to play and think creatively.