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Check Mates

By Rich Shea — October 01, 2003 1 min read

11-year-old Boris Mullayev and his team from PS 180 placed third in this years JPMorganChase Spring Chess Tournament in New York City.
—Photograph by Emile Wamsteker

It appears as though 11-year-old Boris Mullayev took first place in the JPMorganChase Spring Chess Tournament in New York City this past June. But actually, he’s holding the third-place award that his team from Brooklyn’s PS 180 earned. “We do give out big trophies,” admits Marley Kaplan, president and CEO of Chess-in-the-Schools, a nonprofit outfit that, since 1986, has provided Title I New York City schools with free-of-charge equipment and instruction. This year, more than 38,000 K-8 students in 160 schools are participating in the program, which offers in-class lessons and after-school clubs that compete on weekends.

June’s tournament was the 2002-03 year-ender, featuring 300 players, some nationally ranked, from 42 schools. But competition, Kaplan stresses, is not CIS’s raison d'être; studies show the program improves reading, critical thinking, and social skills while providing disadvantaged kids with positive experiences. Those who play chess eventually win games, if not tournaments, and that’s when “a light bulb goes off,” Kaplan explains. “They realize it was their brain that got them there.” Many schools are realizing the same. Supported mostly by private funding, CIS (which also runs an alumni program) is so popular these days, it can’t keep up with demand; more than 100 schools are on the waiting list.