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April 12, 2005 > Checkmate!


Chess club teaches skills in critical thinking

by Lance Dwyer

Alan Kirshner is doing what he always wanted to do; making gradual change in the world student by student, chess piece by chess piece. As a professor of Political Science at Ohlone College and president of Success Chess Schools (SCS), Kirshner educates hundreds of young minds in each role.

SCS is a non-profit corporation established in 70 different schools in the Bay Area with nearly 2,500 students. The program is founded on the belief that playing chess can benefit the mind in many ways.

Part of the philosophy of Success Chess is to expand chess in the Bay Area to instill, create, and develop critical thinking, said Kirshner.

Kirshner mentioned controlled studies in which academic tests were given to students who played chess and those who didn't. The students who played chess showed higher reading comprehension scores. Kirshner explained that chess is a proven catalyst for the development of critical thinking skills.

"Critical thinking is thinking about what you're thinking while you're thinking," said Kirshner.

Put more simply, playing chess instills the development of critical thinking by forcing a player to consider his or her next move, their opponent's next move and the ensuing moves after that. In effect, the player has to think at an accelerated rate. Kirshner feels that chess is an important means of strengthening critical thinking.

"As an educator... we are living in a visually-oriented society," said Kirshner. "In this age a picture is worth a thousand words. Students are coming up with tremendous knowledge nowadays- learning in a different technique. It becomes even more necessary that students today analyze and synthesize material, and I think chess provides that."

The SCS program consists of a weekly one hour and 15 minute session in which students spend 40 minutes learning tactics and strategies and the remaining time participating in controlled scrimmages under tournament-like conditions. The sessions are moderated and taught by teachers from their respective schools. Kirshner said the SCS program advocates an interactive and dynamic teaching method, steering away from pure lecture.

Students involved in the SCS program will get a chance to test just how well they have been trained in a tournament hosted by California North Youth Chess April 15-17 at the San Jose Convention Center. The first day will be what Kirshner referred to as a "fun day" during which non-competitive games will be played such as blitz, fast chess played in five minutes per player, and bughouse, a variant of chess with two players on each side - a player gets the pieces his partner captures.

The competetive tournament begins on Saturday with two divisions: varsity and junior varsity. Ages range from kindergarten to high school. Trophies and prizes will be awarded down to 20th or even 40th place, said Kirshner.

For more information on Success Chess visit or call (510) 657-1586.

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