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Sandy Journal

Waterford chess team focuses on improvement as state tournaments near

Mar 07, 2018 05:10PM ● By Julie Slama

Waterford’s chess team doesn’t just focus on winning, but on learning and improving. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

With the state elementary and middle school chess tournaments set for March 10 and March 23–24, respectively, Waterford School chess team members aren’t focusing on winning.

“We’re wanting our students to learn, to be able to think before acting, concentrate and lose or win graciously,” said Kristin South, chess program coordinator . 

The program, which South introduced to the school five years ago, involves 62 students — the largest ever. She has two after-school groups divided by grade level, a before-school group and a middle school group. One of the groups is by invitation only for players who want additional challenge.

It is the last group where South has invited Utah’s top chess player and private coach grandmaster Alexander Gustafsson to teach students.

“I’m not really a chess player, but more of a chess organizer, so I brought him to teach techniques, openings, study previous games. I can sit down and move pieces, but these students want to learn so much more,” South said, adding that her father taught her how to play, but she didn’t learn more until her own children were wanting to play.

When her children started attending school at Whittier Elementary, there wasn’t a chess program, so South started one. That started as a basis for starting the chess program at Waterford, where over the course of several weeks, students in third through fifth grade are taught the basics in chess and then invited to join the after-school club.

“We want everyone to benefit from chess, but it’s up to them if they want to do more and go to tournaments. This may be an opportunity for students who love chess a chance to give them joy and let them shine,” she said.

It also gives students a chance to feel part of a team and have pride in their school, South said.

“We wear matching shirts and support one another,” she said. “After each match, they may come up to me to say they won or lost, but I will ask them, ‘What did you learn?’ I want them to see how even with the loss, they are growing and being taught life lessons. My emphasis is that they’re improving and having fun. I’d love for them all to win at least one match, but I also want them to learn how to be a competitor.”

At the January West Jordan Invitational, their first tournament of the season, Waterford’s middle school team took first place and the elementary school team finished fifth. They also were slated to compete at the Mountainville Academy tournament in February.

South asks her team to set goals, but not achievement goals.

“I want them to set learning goals so they can accomplish what may be hard things for them to do,” she said.

South said that as a result of practicing chess, students’ concentration also has improved in the classroom.

“I do tend to think they have more thoughtful, careful work. Some also overcome the fear of risk-taking in school since we encourage everyone to try at everything,” she said.

South hopes that the “Game of Kings” is one that will be a part of her students’ lives.

“It’s a game they can enjoy and learn from their entire lifetime. It spans cultures and languages so they can play it all over the world,” said South, who teaches history. “If you look at history, there are chess stories, such as Napolean played chess and he did poorly at it as well as strategizing war. George Washington was known to be a good player and his victory at Yorktown elevated his notoriety as a war commander. Chess can tell us much about people.”