I learned to play chess at 8 years old, when my uncle gave me a small set and I consulted the World Book Encyclopedia to learn how the pieces moved. I played with my uncle who always beat me. At eleven years old, I and a few friends formed our own club and played after school and on weekends. We were very competitive so we went to the local library and checked out chess books to get an advantage on each other.
My high school didn’t have a club, so I joined the band and got very involved in music. In college, I started to go to the Chicago Chess Club tournaments, which at that time were being held in the basement of the LaSalle Hotel downtown. My greatest achievement was a second place finish in a regular Thursday evening tournament that they held.
When I started teaching, one of my first jobs was teaching 8th graders at the Coleman School, located in the Robert Taylor Homes. Knowing that chess was a good way to develop some skills that would transfer over to the classroom, I started teaching students on Friday afternoons.
I quickly noticed that the academically low achievers understood the basic principles of chess better than the high academic achievers. They thought of it as a war game and were more cautious before moving, not wanting to lose any of their troops. The high achievers assumed that they would win simply because they were “smarter” than the other students, and so they rushed their moves leading to major blunders. They couldn’t believe they lost.
Since the major part of my professional career has revolved around education, I think that my current involvement with the Chicago Chess Foundation is due in large part to these early experiences with chess as a motivator to achievement for all students, including those who are not normally considered high achievers. In this world of increasingly dense information, noise, and seeming chaos, teaching children chess can help students focus and concentrate on developing their minds and hearts.
I have no doubt that spreading opportunities for students at all levels to learn chess and compete in chess tournaments will be of invaluable benefit to those students, their schools, and the City of Chicago, now and into the future.
About the Author
Len Dominguez has served as Chicago’s Deputy Mayor for Education and the Chief of Policy for Chicago’s public schools. He has played chess since grammar school and has supported chess both as a Chicago high school principal and as a Rotary Club president. An educational consultant, instructor and mentor of other teachers, Len has previously served on the board of CCF. He has won numerous awards for his contributions to education and service to children. He lives in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.