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      A corporate lawyer sits down at a chessboard and nervously shakes hands with his opponent.  She is a young brunette, 12 years old, a former state champion competitor.

     Her brother – a middle school teenager – sits at another table nervously chewing his pen.  His competitor, a retired IT specialist, leans close to ponder the next move.

     Across the room, an auto mechanic and university music student furiously blitz final moves to beat the winding chess clock.

     At the end of the match, everyone smiles and shakes hands.

     These players meet in VFW halls and coffee shops, in city parks and public libraries. They are all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities.  But what they all share is a deep appreciation for the game of chess.

     Chess is an unusual phenomenon in the history of world games.  It’s been around for centuries.  Once upon a time, real kings, queens, and ambassadors undertook chess study for political education, hence its nickname, The Royal Game.  

     Today an estimated 600 to 700 million people play chess worldwide on a regular basis. Many more have childhood memories of sharing the game with loved ones.

     But are there greater benefits for chess clubs as a community institution?

      At the Shenandoah Valley Chess Club in Winchester, Virginia, we believe the answer is yes.

     Here are a few reasons why:

     Reason #1 — When it comes to brain health, few places compare to a Chess Club.  Exercising for hours in the gym does wonders for the body.  But how many places exist in your city that specifically cultivates the brain? Chess is called “the mental gymnasium” for good reason. It is scientifically proven to increase concentration, memory, and cognitive performance.  And while one could play chess online, it is much more meaningful to square off against a real live opponent.  Live chess means better competition, and afterwards, you can discuss the game in elaborate detail.  At the end of the night, you go home feeling like your brain cells have been supercharged.

     Reason #2 — Chess Clubs teaches “systems thinking”.  Systems thinking is simply the art of seeing “the big picture”.  It’s a problem-solving approach that views the pieces as being connected to a greater whole.  Simply put, the better you understand how the pieces move, and how to make them work together, the better you can formulate great answers to address problems. 

      This winning methodology can be applied to more than just chess.  Yet many places exist that are wholly devoted to teaching this skill?

     Reason #3 — Chess Clubs highlight the best of diversity.  Have you ever seen a silent crowd gathered around two chess players at war?  What you don’t see is the inner dialogue in each person’s mind as they ponder what they would do in the hot seat.  If you could, you would see how each person has a very unique way of imagining possible moves.  Each person would have a unique playing style (tactical v. positional), a unique strategy (aggressive v. defensive), and a unique expertise (novice v. tournament player).  All of these factors influence their outlook.

     But who has the best idea?

     At its best, a chess club is a positive learning environment where participants can share ideas and improve each other’s understanding of the game.  Chess is a complex game with millions of possibilities.  While it is possible that one expert player sees moves another cannot, it is also highly likely that another expert has a better idea. 

     Instead of resting comfortably in theory, we invite each other to present, challenge, and test moves to see what can be learned.

     Nearly all chess players will agree, no matter good we are (or think we are), there is always more to learn.  

     So at the end of the night, wins and losses don’t really matter that much.  

     The real question we ask is, “Did you learn something new?”

     The answer is almost always yes.

     The final reason for why cities can benefit from Chess Clubs is a vital one.

     Few pastimes survive antiquity to thrive in the 21st century.  Yet modern times are much different from previous eras.  Change moves extremely fast these days.  Daily life is dependent on complex machines and intricate systems as never before.

     Everything is interconnected.

     Given these complex realities, our collective success as a society depends more on “seeing the big picture” and our ability to draw the best from everyone’s perspective.

     Suppose at the heart of every city there was a special place where the brightest minds could gather, interact, and challenge each other to develop better solutions?  That sounds like a neat recipe for dynamic things to transpire.

     At the Shenandoah Valley Chess Club, we like to think that we have created not only a safe haven for Chess, but a natural think-tank and community brain trust of problem solvers from all corners of the region.

     We enjoy sharing ideas and learning something new. We celebrate our favorite game, and best of all, we truly enjoy each other’s company.

     There are many more reasons why Chess Clubs are a great idea.  Yet it doesn’t get much better than this.

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