When Liam Kilgore asked his teacher, Todd French, if they could start a chess club at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School, he was told to ask someone in charge.
The 10-year-old didn’t have to go far — his mother, Bobbie Kilgore, is the principal.
“I went to my mom and asked her and she gave me permission,” Kilgore said.
The club, which consists of fourth- and fifth-graders, meets once a month after school in the cafeteria. Members play against each other, watch others play and learn strategy. The 40 students had their first meeting Jan. 31.
French, who teaches math and science, said anyone can join as long they are in the fourth or fifth grade.
“I want to keep it open to anybody,” he said. “If you have behavioral issues in school I still want you to be allowed to come to chess club.”
He hopes to accept younger students if the club is successful.
“I’ve had chess in my classroom for the last six years,” French said. “About half the class usually gets into chess, I teach them every year how to play.
“I’ve said a chess club is something I’ve always wanted to start, but my kids in my classroom really pushed me to get it going. “
This year was different, he said.
“This year it just happened to be that 80 percent of my class was into it,” he said. “Every once in a while you get a group like this.”
Kilgore’s grandmother donated a starter kit: 10 chess boards and 10 timers. According to French, a chess board averages $20.
French says chess is ideal for applying ideas related to probability.
When playing chess, students have to think about what’s going to happen if they move to a certain spot on the board. French prefers players don’t focus on the numbers.
“Kids focus on how many pieces I have compared to how many pieces you have,” he said. “When they first get started they’re worried about ‘I’ve taken five of your pieces and you’ve only taken two of mine so I must be winning.’”
“Then they start to learn it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the power of the pieces.”
French hopes to form a team that competes against other schools, but he’s decided to start small.
“We have three elementary schools within Milford,” he said. “I think it would be cool if we got a club started at each one and then have some sort of a tournament between the three.”