The Lacomb Chess Club gives children an education in game and life
By Larry Coonrod
For Local Lebanon
It is 3 p.m. on a Monday and as the students of Brandon Weist’s last lesson of the day rush outside to enjoy a sunny December afternoon, about twenty youngsters from the Lacomb School Chess Club make the line in front of the door.
Over the next hour, pawns, knights, rooks, bishops, and queens will battle in pursuit of their opponent’s king.
Five years ago, Weist, who graduated from Sweet Home High School in 2007, decided he wanted to provide more activities and opportunities for Lacomb students.
“The chess club was one of the first things I thought of because I myself learned to play chess at my primary school in fourth grade,” he said.
His fourth-grade teacher, the late Robert Keller of Foster Elementary School in Sweet Home, influenced Weist in both chess and career choice, he said.
“Chess has kind of a corny reputation, but he made chess cool,” Weist said. “That’s what I would like to do here. Make chess cool and kids excited.
Club members brought great enthusiasm to the first club meeting in December.
Before the game begins, Weist gives a quick lesson on en passant, a special pawn capture rule, using chess diagrams. Players’ hands are raised to voluntarily guess which pawns might fall during a passing game.
With the lesson over, the students face their next opponent in the club’s ongoing winter tournament, which serves as a warm-up for an upcoming regional tournament.
Each February, five to ten of the best players compete against other schools at the Chess for Success event in Monmouth. From there, the winners move on to the state tournament.
“We’ve finished second or better every year,” Weist said.
The two female members of the club, eighth graders Jannah Jimenez and Cassidy Jones, are soon locked in an intense back-and-forth on all levels when Jones lets out a moan.
A blunder makes the capture of his queen inevitable. Losing a queen – the most powerful piece – means almost certain defeat and today is no exception.
Jimenez and Jones, both multi-sport athletes, took a break from basketball season to attend chess club.
This is something that excites Weist. Chess still tends to be a majority male activity, he said.
“Chess is like a puzzle to my brain because I’m an athlete,” Jimenez said.
The hardest part of chess is competing with friends. It’s hard, because Cassidy is my best friend.
Caleb Black, an eighth grader and two-time state tournament veteran, said competing in tournaments is stressful and tiring.
“It’s waiting and thinking about the movements.”
Initially aimed at middle school students, the club quickly expanded to fourth, fifth and sixth graders,
and this year Jameson Graham, a budding sophomore chess prodigy.
“Jameson has skills,” Weist said.
Weist is devoting the first few weeks of the new school year to having the more experienced players teach the younger ones the basics of chess.
“One of the benefits of a K-8 school is that you get these good leaders — middle-level students who lead by example and teach the younger ones,” he said.
At first glance, chess is a simple game. Each player starts with 16 pieces placed on a board of 64 squares of alternating colors. Beneath this simplicity hides a complex game that little ever master.
Consider this: there are nearly 3 billion (yes, billion) possible combinations for players to make their first four moves. Although most games last between 30 and 40 moves, the longest possible game is 5,949 moves (the longest game actually recorded lasted 269 moves).
This complexity makes chess a favorite learning tool in schools. Research shows that learning chess not only improves children’s problem-solving and critical thinking skills, but also math and reading.
“The best chess players are those who take their time and are very methodical and think through all their possible options,” Weist said.
“I think that translates a lot to school, strategizing and setting homework that I have to turn in? What is the best option for me.
“At the end of the day, I think that translates to life: prioritizing strategy and thinking about your moves before you make them.”