McKinney mayor faces 4-year-old in friendly chess match
McKinney Mayor George Fuller faced an opponent of a different sort last weekend when he squared off over a game of chess with 4-year-old Blaine Wakeman.
Blaine, who is a preschooler at Goddard School in McKinney, has been studying the game for about a year from Little Geniuses franchisee DeLaurence Burnes, known to everyone simply as Coach Burnes.
His mom Amanda said it wasn't long after he started learning chess that he fell in love. Blaine regularly challenges Amanda, dad Conor and little brother Everett, who's getting his start even earlier at 2 years old. Blaine even quizzes Everett on the pieces to help him before he begins the program next year.
Amanda said when the school approached her about Blaine playing against Fuller at their fall festival, she thought it was a great idea.
"Blaine would play chess with anyone he could come across, he loves it so much," she said. "For him, it was just another match."
She said Blaine loves presidents, so in order to explain the significance of his opponent, she told him "he's like the president of McKinney."
She told him about the match about a month in advance, she said, and in true form Blaine got started right away on preparations, playing every day, seven days a week. When there's not opponent around to shut down, Blaine plays against himself or a computer to get a variety of outcomes.
"The benefits of chess at a young age have been proven time and time again, so we were really excited when he picked up on it, and he just seems to love it," Amanda said.
Coach Burnes, who brought the Little Geniuses program with him from his hometown of Birmingham, said Blaine had the mayor on his toes on Saturday. Although he technically lost the game by running out his time, Blaine never let Fuller get a checkmate, a feat in itself.
"For Blaine to be a 4-year-old to be thinking like that, I was just so impressed," he said.
Fuller had a similar reaction to Blaine's skills.
"I was so unbelievably impressed with him as a 4-year-old, and had he been a 10-year-old, I would have still be impressed just with the way he carries himself," he said. "Some kids that age you meet them and you see them as they are - just a little kid - but some kids, you see their mannerisms and the way they handle themselves, you can imagine them as a young adult."
Fuller, while not a regular player, said he's picked up matches in the past and was happy to be involved.
"It was great to play a game again and remember all the different movements, and I was reminded of how it's such a great, strategic game," he said. "As I was sitting there doing that, it just really dawned on me how powerful that is - just a mind-stimulating event for those young kids. I enjoyed it thoroughly."
Little Geniuses teaches the basics through high-energy activities to children 3 to 5 years old and carries through with more advanced tactics with 6- to 12-year-olds in the Knight School program. Their newest program, Varsity, for high school students, launches in January
He said the skills they learn take them through school and beyond.
"Strategy and logic is going to take you so far because it's proven that kids who play chess have higher ACT and SAT scores, so they'll go to better colleges, get better jobs," he said.
Amanda said the kids love Coach Burnes, as do the parents.
"Blaine talks about him every day," Burnes said. "I like that he sets high standards for kids because that's how we'd like to raise our kids. He treats them just like they're adults playing chess."