How I Have Built a Chess Community

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 624 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

Words: 624|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

By the time I graduated from middle school, I was the only one who played chess competitively at my school. The other kids who I had enjoyed friendly games with, or who I had competed against in tournaments, had all drifted off to other activities by the time we started high school. Not that I blamed them. Chess can be grueling, frustrating, and demoralizing at times. Progress tends to be slow, and for me, success never came easily. But I also knew how fulfilling chess could be. I stuck with it and I was glad I did: through chess, I learned to love challenges and thrive off of strategic decisions. I continued to study and play competitively and traveled to tournaments all over the east coast. By 9th grade, I finished tenth place at the National K-12 Scholastic Chess Championship but I was the only one who played chess at my school. I wished I had other kids in my neighborhood who played. I realized that if I wanted a chess community, I would have to build one. So I did.

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That same year, I founded “Chess With A Champion”; a free, public, instructional chess program taught in local Arlington Public Libraries. Growing up, I was very fortunate to receive chess coaching from my elementary school’s chess club, and I wanted to pass on my knowledge to a diverse group of new players. I hung some flyers and the classes filled up almost instantly. There were elementary school kids, and their moms, some students from community college, a bunch of senior citizens, and a guy who arrived to every class on a Harley. A man in the neighborhood donated an old box full of hundreds of chess pieces, which I spent hours sorting into full sets. The staff at the library gave me the keys to a dusty supply closet on the top floor and it’s no exaggeration to say that I felt like I lived in that room for the rest of the summer. I came up with creative lesson plans and analyzed the games of Grandmasters like Lasker, Morphy, Kasparov, and Carlsen. I struggled to figure out how to translate the most complex moves into relatable lessons for beginners. It is hard to explain the infinite possibilities and probabilities contained on the board at any critical moment. Sometimes, I stumbled in front of the group, searching for a way to illuminate a concept to young, and occasionally disinterested, students. From this, I learned how to prepare in advance but also think on my feet.

The classes progressed and soon my beginners had moved into the intermediate class. Some of them even developed into brilliant strategists themselves. Sometimes, I would give them a puzzle to solve in order to hone their critical thinking skills and we would spend the next hour discussing their analysis. They came up with astute ideas that caught me by surprise. I took their suggestions with me into my next few tournaments, and I was able to improve my performance. I became a nationally ranked chess player, and earned recognition from the United States Chess Federation as one of the top scholastic players in the country.

As word spread, our community of strangers who played chess together grew. I purposefully paired up the members of my classes, who normally wouldn’t interact; I would intentionally pair young students with older seniors to spar in matches. That summer and every summer since, I worked to build a community of novice chess players who became part of the global chess community.

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By 2018, Chess with a Champion was the most well-attended program the Arlington Public Library offered. I discovered that chess was a tool I could use to improve my community and to bring people together. 

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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How I Have Built A Chess Community. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from
“How I Have Built A Chess Community.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021,
How I Have Built A Chess Community. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Feb. 2024].
How I Have Built A Chess Community [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Jun 09 [cited 2024 Feb 22]. Available from:
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