Fox Valley Chess Club takes smart steps to gain momentum – Chicago Tribune

When talking to Bill Feldman, it’s hard to tell if this DeKalb man is more into kids or chess.

Having learned on his father’s lap how to play the game, the 62-year-old DeKalb man – even after being away from the boards for decades – is competent enough to hold his own in most tournaments to adults.

But it was teaching kids how to maneuver their kings, queens, pawns and knights that cemented Feldman’s place in the game, especially after the resurrection of the Fox Valley Chess Club in 2015 which, until pandemic strikes, met weekly at the Turner Club in Aurora. .

In the pre-COVID days, he said, around 30 players would show up each Tuesday night, with some as young as 3 learning the game.

Feldman likes to “capture” the enthusiasm of young people from the start. With reason.

Most Fox Valley Chess Club members are at the K-5 level, with some in middle and high schools and a few college students. And this local chess club can boast an impressive track record of victories, including state champions and winners on the national and world stage.

As you would expect, the club has in some ways benefited from the pandemic by allowing more children to participate through Zoom lessons and virtual events. Nearly 170 youngsters are now jumping online to play in tournaments known to span 14 time zones.

“I would say it’s pretty global,” Fox Valley Chess Club coordinator Michael Flynn of Aurora said. “Not only did Bill keep this club alive during the pandemic, but he also came up with the idea of ​​hosting a lot of games internationally.”

What also makes Fox Valley Chess Club unique from other groups, added Flynn, 64, is that it has become a training ground for young people, which has been Feldman’s passion ever since. his return to the game 10 years ago.

Feldman, who grew up in DeKalb and became involved in computer information systems while working in California, had dropped out of chess after college. And he didn’t return to the game for 30 years. After returning home in 2010 to care for his late father, he came across an informal group at a bookstore who invited him to attend a game.

“It’s like riding a bike,” said Feldman who, once again addicted, created an official club in DeKalb through the American Chess Federation and soon took over the group Turner Club, which changed its name in Fox Valley Chess Club.

This organization gradually began to attract a younger, more diverse group of players – primarily from Naperville and Aurora – largely due to the co-leader’s passion for “school chess”.

And, while chess tends to attract more men, the membership of the club is about 50/50, Feldman noted, with more girls joining every day.

Some of this, Feldman and Flynn agree, could be attributed to Netflix’s recent hit “The Queen’s Gambit,” which features the story of an orphan girl who became fascinated with chess and after learning the game from herself- even, took this world by storm.

“That’s how we’d like to see chess,” Flynn said, “giving these young girls that confidence when they’re young.”

One way to do this is to expose girls and boys to as much competition as possible.

Thanks to Feldman’s extensive connections and organizational skills, Flynn said, the Fox Valley Chess Club now competes in about eight tournaments a month with clubs around the world.

“And we,” Feldman insisted, “are doing just fine.”

Members of the club, he added, all stay in touch virtually, and when “one child finds success, they all join in the praise”.

During the pandemic, these youngsters have also embarked on other brain-training exercises – some members will complete 1,000 puzzles a week – which are always popular with parents looking for ways to keep their children occupied.

After all, if they have to stare at more screens, they might as well improve their analytical, verbal, spatial, memory and pattern recognition skills, all areas of the brain that benefit from chess, Feldman insists.

While he doesn’t know when the club will be able to meet in person again, the pandemic, he and Flynn said, has really opened up the world to local kids.

Last weekend, 37 children from Fox Valley Chess Club were among more than 100 players participating in the US Amateur Team North event.

“It’s amazing how some of them have progressed in chess over the past year,” Feldman said. “I just want to spread the love of the game.”

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