- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2003

Youngsters proved they do know how to make the right moves during a Youth Chess Tournament yesterday held by the Big Chair Chess Club in Northeast.

Eighteen girls and boys from the greater Washington area set up their chess boards inside the Deanwood Chess House on Sheriff Road. They shook hands, sized up their opponents and proceeded to beat the clock during a half-day of tournament play.

The youngsters, ages 4 to 16, also got a chance to test their skills against Chess Master Ken Clayton of Laurel, the fourth black person in U.S. history to achieve a master’s title. Mr. Clayton, 65, engaged the enthusiastic group in simultaneous play with expert feedback afterward.

“Chess is actually teaching me how to think before I make a move,” said Wendall Brown, a fifth-grader who attends Carmony Hills Elementary School in Capitol Heights.

“I started playing in the first grade, enjoyed it, and I’ve found that it has helped me in my studies, especially when it comes to focusing,” said the 10-year-old, who placed sixth in the Junior Olympic Chess Nationals in Tennessee in May.

Although he lost one of his three 20-minute matches, Wendall wasn’t disappointed; rather, he immediately recognized his error in judgement.

“I didn’t make the right move. I should have pinned his knight to the pawn. Instead, I played F6,” he said.

Michael Brown, vice president of the Big Chair Chess Club, said chess teaches a person how to maneuver the game of life. That’s why he and Eugene Brown, who is not related to him, teamed up in the early ‘90s to establish the chess club for children or anyone else who shows an interest in learning the game for free.

“This game teaches life skills — reasoning, deduction, discipline, etiquette. There’s an educational component as well. You’ve got to study, and it’s an ongoing game. Chess has helped students academically, and that’s coming from teachers,” said Michael Brown, an avid chess player and sergeant for the D.C. Fire Department who has taught thousands of children how to play the game.

What Bryant McNeil, 11, enjoys most is the ability to play the game on the Internet, through the telephone or by mail, he said. The seventh-grader, who attends Walt Whitman Middle School in Alexandria, said chess has improved his thought processes. Bryant said a player must stay three steps ahead of his opponent.

“I started playing chess when I was 3 years old. Today, I play three times a week and devote two hours a day to strategy and practicing,” he said.

Eugene Brown, 57, a community activist in Ward 7 and president of the chess club, knows the value of the game. That’s why he purchased the house on Sheriff Road in Northeast and dedicated the two-story structure to the game of chess.

“If we could get children to sit down and calm down, then we knew that we could teach them everything. For a child to sit still for one hour and actually hear the birds chirping — that exercise in itself prepares them for testing. The same concentration necessary to play chess extends into every area of their lives. If you sit and play chess for two hours a day, you will develop discipline,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Clayton, a native Washingtonian, celebrated his 65th birthday yesterday. Mr. Clayton, a soft-spoken outdoorsman, spent his special day teaching children how to hone their skills and offering hints on how to improve their chess game.

Mr. Clayton, a self-taught chess master and Harvard graduate, received his master’s rating in 1967. He got over the need to compete long ago, he said, and has decided to help the young ones and bring them along.

“We will line up all the boards, and I will play them. Then, I will tell them how to improve their games,” said Mr. Clayton, an honorary member of the chess club’s board of directors.

Mr. Clayton always enjoyed playing board games as a child. As a senior at Dunbar High School in the District, he learned that chess was popular at Ivy League colleges and he was headed to Harvard. He said he received a chess set as a Christmas present in 1953 and started to play. The rest is history.

“I must say, it’s been a rewarding life,” Mr. Clayton said with a smile.

For more information about the Big Chair Chess Club go to www.bigchairchessclub.org or call 202/396-1780.

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