Monday, December 30, 2013

Chess for Chicago's youth

I've read a string of wonderful stories in the last week about young Chicago-area players making their mark on their chessboard:
  • The Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship is winding up today in Lubbock, Texas. Most of the young masters on the University of Illinois team are from the Chicago area. Today, the "walk-ons" play a much stronger team from Texas Tech (international players on chess scholarships!) to try to return to the Final Four of chess for a second consecutive year. Please join me in wishing Eric Rosen, Michael Auger, Xin Luo, and Akshay Indusekar the best of luck today! By the time you read this, you may be able to see whether the Illini qualified.
  • David Peng of Wilmette (whose coach is Grandmaster Dmitry Gurevich of Chicago) just won a silver medal in the World Under-10 Championship in Al-‘Ain, United Arab Emirates. Who won the gold medal in the same section? Awonder Liang of Wisconsin, who often studies with Chicago grandmasters.
  • And just a couple of weeks ago, Sam Schmakel of Chicago's Whitney Young High School won his fifth national scholastic title. For this accomplishment, Sam was featured in yesterday's New York Times.
I've played tournament games against six of these seven young people, and have analyzed with the seventh.  I feel honored to know them!

So chess in Chicago must be doing wonderfully, no? Not according to Dylan Loeb McClain, the author of the Schmakel feature:
Schmakel's school, Whitney Young High, is a magnet school that is part of the Chicago public school system and is where Michelle Obama graduated. It was the only representative at the K–12 Championships from the city, which is not known as a chess stronghold. More students are enrolled in scholastic chess programs and are sent to tournaments across the country from schools in New York, which sends more teams to competitions than any other city; Miami; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and even Brownsville, Tex.
It is unusual for a city as large as Chicago, with 2.7 million people, to have only one school enter a tournament as prestigious as the K–12 Championships. By comparison, Los Alamos, N.M., population 18,000, also sent one school.
It helps to go to a great magnet school. It helps to have parents who are willing to make financial sacrifices in order to give their children the opportunity to succeed. But most of the talented young people in our city won't be admitted to Whitney Young. And many of their parents would love to give their children greater opportunities but are barely making ends meet.

In my last fundraising pitch, I also asked for financial assistance to send teams from two Chicago West Side schools to the same Florida event at which Sam Schmakel won his fifth title. In the end, the schools could not accept the money that several kind people (including a CPS administrator) pledged. The airfares jumped in price as the deadline approached, and the trip was called off.

Could these kids have succeeded at Nationals? Of course they could have: the team from Faraday Elementary, which draws its students from some of the most dangerous neighborhoods on the West Side, just finished third in a December 14 Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago event.

The Chicago Chess Center does not want to turn children away because their parents can't afford to pay us. Please help us open our doors: please help us help them.


Speaking only for myself, I don't have very much interest in turning young players into grandmasters. It matters more to me that one of my former students is a freshman at an Ivy League school than his having earned an International Master norm. Chess is a fun way to teach critical thinking skills, the skills that turn kids into high achievers.

Children don't get to choose how much money their parents have, and they don't get to choose the neighborhood they are raised in. We want to be there for all of these children, but we can't do it without your support.

We are fortunate to have GMs Dmitry Gurevich, Yury Shulman, Nikola Mitkov and Mesgen Amanov on our advisory board, which also includes leaders from Chicago's nonprofit and business community.

My friend and fellow board member Dave Ducat made a compelling pitch on Facebook the other day. I can't improve on it, so I'll steal Dave's words:

Of course you're thinking that this is Chicago and that there has to be such a place already . . . an actual "Chicago Chess Center" somewhere . . . right?
There is no physical "Chicago Chess Center" location in the city, and there hasn't been one within the city limits for over 20 years. Cities like St. Louis and Dallas have developed premier chess clubs, have set the new standard and have seen their international exposure and tourism increased over the last three to five years. I want that for Chicago. I want Chicago to become the center for chess in the United States, and I want it to set the example for other cities to follow.
I need your help to make the Chicago Chess Center a reality. I need your financial contributions to create a physical location, centralized and within easy access of public transportation, so that chess-playing people of all ages, all walks of life, and all neighborhoods in and around the city can have a place to call their own. I need your help to shape the future of chess in Chicago and shape it with our youth in mind.
When the CCC was founded, the board put together a campaign to raise $30,000 within a year to fund the acquisition, furnishing and rent of a suitable space to call the Chicago Chess Center. To date, through tireless solicitation by the board of directors as well as through key personal and corporate investments [...], we've been able to raise over half that amount [we're now over $18,000—BB]. It's my hope that you can find a few dollars to contribute to this worthy cause and help the CCC reach its goal of opening the doors of a new location in early 2014. We need your support to make this happen.
Please take a moment to review our website and click the "Donate Now" button. Please consider a donation of $50; however, any amount will be gratefully accepted. For the price of one latte a day for one week, you can make a lasting contribution to a worthwhile cause and help us achieve our mission.
Bill again.  Without your financial support, we may not be able to fulfill our mission. And we are so close to opening our doors . 

Please make your tax-deductible year-end donation now. Thank you for caring.

Bill Brock

Chicago Chess Center NFP Inc.

P.S.  If you'd like to make your donation by check, here's our mailing address:

Chicago Chess Center NFP Inc.
P.O. Box 180095
Chicago, IL 60618

1 comment:

Bill Brock said...

And yes, the Illini won in round six. They finished third on tiebreaks & qualify a second year running for the Final Four!