Detective Cookie’s Chess Club seeks to expand and free more children from the trappings of the streets

Participants in Detective Cookie’s Chess Club carefully choose their next move. Courtesy picture.

By Airik Myers, The Seattle Medium

When it comes to community policing in Seattle, one name comes to mind – Det. Biscuit. Denise “Cookie” Bouldin’s passion and desire for children and the community has been evident since she joined the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in the 1980s.

As she seeks to make an impact beyond her role as a member of the SPD, Det. Cookie has always supported youth groups and youth activities. From becoming an SPD officer to this day, she has worked with young people to find activities for them to do, and her chess club is an extension of that.

“I’m the kind of agent, I always interact with young people and try to find things for them to do or see what’s going on in their lives,” says Detective Cookie. “The chess club was born from the need of young people to have something [positive] To do.”

The Chess Club meets weekly at the Rainier Beach Library after school on Tuesdays from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and at the Rainier Beach Community Center on Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. At the Chess Club, people from 7 years old to adults come to play with everyone who is available to play. Members who cannot play chess are taught by Det. Cookie or one of his chess teachers. Chess coaches also teach advanced chess to those who have a basic understanding of chess and have played before. They also host festive pop-up events that include a DJ playing music, free pizza, chicken, and water for anyone who wants to play chess.

Due to the Coronavirus, the band has been forced to play either outdoors at various community festivals or online. However, this did not detract from the success of the program. During the pandemic, young chess players have faced players from all over the world, including players from China, the Netherlands, Africa, Iran and Canada, to name a few. Additionally, one of the female students in the program is the #1 ranked elementary split in the world, and one of the female students is the #1 ranked middle school-high school split in America.

“I’m so proud of them,” says Det. Biscuit. “I want to thank National Chess Master Josh Sinanan and the Washington State Chess Federation for allowing my youth to participate in online chess.”

According to Det. Cookie, the idea for the chess club was born in 2006, after young people from the community played a basketball game against SPD police officers. The game was a huge success and there was talk of doing a similar activity the following year. But speaking with children in the community, Det. Cookie learned that not all kids wanted to play basketball. After considering other options, such as a pool party or a barbecue, one of the students suggested having a chess tournament.

The suggestion piqued the interest of Det. Cookie’s supervisor at the time. So they decided to organize a chess tournament and invited the children of the community to participate. However, when attendees showed up for the event, Det. Cookie and his colleagues discovered a problem: only 2 of the approximately 30 children who showed up knew how to play chess. Det. Cookie, at the time, also didn’t know how to play, so there was no way to teach eager participants how to play. The chess tournament ended up being the two kids playing against each other while everyone stood around and watched.

After the event, Det. Cookie set out to change the narrative around chess for herself and children. She secured funding from the Seattle Foundation and the Seattle Police Foundation to purchase chess boards and hire eight chess instructors. She also secured the Rainier Beach Library Community Room, so they could have a permanent location where they could teach the kids to play chess, and from there she created the Chess Club and it grew. has since been developed.

“I had maybe about 10 kids who showed up [at first]“explains Det. Biscuit. “And then the next week I had 27 kids, and then the next 30, 60, I mean, it was a big hit. And I was saying to the kids, you know, invite a friend, invite a friend.

One of the obstacles when it comes to playing chess is apprehension. This apprehension can come from several different factors. Some may see it as something “only white people do”, like a few of Det. Cookie’s students thought. Others might think it’s too hard to learn, or that their brains aren’t wired to understand chess, a thought that had crossed Det first. Cookie’s mind when it came to playing chess.

However, within Detective Cookie’s Chess Club there are many examples of children being brought to the club by their parents who do not like or know how to play chess and who, at the end of their first day, wouldn’t want to go home.

After attending the 30-minute workouts herself, Det. Cookie has become addicted to chess. From carrying a roll-up chess board in her purse to increasing the popularity of the club, she has gone all out with chess and the positive impact it can have on the community.

“[I initially thought] my brain doesn’t work well for chess,” she said. “So the American Chess Foundation contacted me and said, ‘Detective Cookie, we heard and read your story where you said you can’t play chess because you find it’s not isn’t for you. Let us take you to one of our trainings on a Saturday.’””

“So I went to this training and within 30 minutes I was playing chess and loving it,” says Det. Biscuit. “I started carrying a chessboard around with me. I was so excited.”

One of the things about chess is that you don’t have to be the greatest. You don’t have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest, and you can still play chess. Chess is a mind sport where that’s all it takes. You don’t even have to speak the same language, all you have to do is sit across from someone, or online, and play.

Drawing on his own experience, Det. Cookie and her staff at the club inspired students to have fun playing chess. They teach them to understand that chess is a game that anyone can learn to play.

While the basic principle of the chess club is to have fun and play, Det. Cookie and the police department also use it as a tool to help reduce violence in the community. His goal is to get people to fight with their minds and not with their fists or weapons.

“My thing now is, you know, to bring it to the chessboard. Don’t bring him out onto the street,” Det says. Biscuit. “Being on the street, showing off your manhood or whatever you want to call it, your childhood. No. Take him to the chessboard. Usually when people play chess they see a different person. I had gang members that I encouraged [through chess] and took them off the streets.

While the notion of interacting with gang members and/or difficult kids might not be high on your weekend to-do list, Det. Cookie believes that having people who live in the same community sit down, interact, engage and get to know each other over a game of chess is a way to rebuild trust, understanding and concept of being a good neighbour.

Due to the massive positive impact the club has had on the community and the need to grow, there are plans to create a chess park! This park is an effort to commemorate the work that Det. Cookie did in the community and provided a bigger, open space for the chess club to grow. This pandemic has shown the importance of having an open and relaxed space where people can play chess against each other. The park has received funding and grants as part of efforts to be completed in the near future. There is currently a statue of the king and queen in the park space, named the “King and Queen of Rainer Beach”.

If you want to know more about the Chess Club or the Chess Park, feel free to visit the Facebook page, Detective Cookie Chess Park, or the website https://detectivecookiechesspark.org/.

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