I saw a notice in the Boston Globe North section about a chess club in Everett, and decided to check it out. Being an old chess player myself (first board in my Darien High School years) I decided to jump in and see if I could still remember it all.
Every Wednesday night in Everett you can find a group of young people huddled over chessboards, one offering to "verse" another (a fascinating local term, apparently from versus.) Michael Sullivan hosts a group session, primarily of ten to 18 year olds, from 6:30 to 8:45 at the Parlin Memorial Library. Sometimes younger children and older adults drift in for the fun. Although most of the group are from Everett, several come in from Malden, Medford, and surrounding towns.
Mike's purpose is to introduce and teach "social chess", stressing both the personal element as well as expertise in the game. Most nights are primarily teaching through playing. If you play against Mike you probably get (if you need it) a running commentary on basic principals, the importance of position, and strategy in mid and end-game. Some nights are dedicated to more formal instruction in particular aspects of chess.
The level of expertise ranges from quite raw to well-rated. Mike himself is a good player, wins most if not all of his games. This year four of his charges were on the Everett High School team, and can hold their own against Mike. Each year this group sponsors a club tournament. About 30 players participated in the playoff. Typically there are about 20 kids each Wednesday night.
One of the youngsters is a whiz. He looks to be about ten and has a cute winning smile. Sometimes Mike sends him over to play with a visiting adult (in this case me). Surprise! He is one of those intuitive players who sees position naturally, plays aggressively, and beat the pants off me twice. I'm enjoying the experience of playing again. I win most of my games, and I try to be helpful to the youngsters. There is a certain amount of silliness, of course, but the older boys (and most of the advanced players are in fact male) are quite serious and quite good.
Mike Sullivan reaching out to make a point.
Michael Sullivan is a resident of Stratham, New Hampshire, and is a librarian in Greenland. He commutes down to his old stomping grounds in Everett (where he was previously children's librarian at Parlin Library) on Wednesdays, and then hosts another chess club in Greenland on Thursday nights. He is also a professional storyteller. Read more about him on his website at www.geocities.com/talestoldtall. His new book "Connecting Boys with Books: What Libraries Can Do" is due to be released in June 2003.
A U.S. Conference of Mayors City Livability Award went to Mike's chess club in 2001. The award is given to a city program that improves city life. The experience that the boys and girls receive from this library-sponsored activity is unusual in this day. With budget cuts threatening the state, there is some concern that this valuable resource might be lost. Let's hope not!
June 6, 2003