Miami City Chess Club Juvenile Chess Program

Miami City Chess Club Juvenile Chess Program

Jan 28, 2016, 4:05 PM |


I don't talk about my work with children in chess much. Most of the time, it is spent working with amazing, talented children who have amazing,

talented parents that give them every opportunity in

life. I feel as if I have never really worked a day in

my life because I love what I do. But what most

people do not know about is my work with convicted

felons who are under the age of 18 at a reform

school called AMIkids. All the children have felonies

and have spent time in jail. They are sent to an

alternative school to hopefully get on track to

graduate again. In this program, I try to get to know

each child personally, find out what got them to this

moment and show them how making better

decisions on the chess board leads to making better

decisions in life.


This is Leo. He was a new kid to my class. Leo is 16

and first learned to play chess when he visited his


father in prison at the age of 6 years old. Often, the

cycle continues. As you see, Leo is covered in

tattoos. (This is a new trend where some how these

kids are getting easier access to tattoos at an earlier

age then during my time as an youth.) Leo is/was a

member of a gang here in Miami. Right away I could

tell he was very bright.


Many of the kids actually have spent some time

playing jailhouse chess. That and working out are

two of things that can keep you out of trouble. When

I walk in the class, right away Leo asks, "Yo, how

much money do I win if I beat you." I say, "If you

beat me, $1000 bucks smile emoticon"

As we play, I tell him that I trained our sponsor of the

class and he won $10,000 in a tournament in Las

Vegas a year ago. He also came from the streets of

Miami and used chess to escape his harsh reality. I

go on to tell him that in chess, when you lose it is

your fault. You are responsible for your actions. And

when bad things happen, you have to ask yourself

why? You have to study your game and see what

you did wrong so you do not repeat the same

mistake again. Making mistakes is ok but repeating

the same mistakes over and over again is just



Now, Leo knew a couple things about chess. He

was not bad for a beginner but as I observe him play

another kid, I taught him a valuable lesson. I clear all

the pieces off the board except the Kings, his Queen

and Rook. I tell him, "Now you have all the power,

you have all the money (The value of the pieces)

what are you going to do about it? Leo tries for

about 5 minutes and finally gives up. He was unable

to beat me with just my king left! I explain to him that

he does not have a plan. He is playing one move at

a time hoping to fall into checkmate. This is like

waking up each day without a purpose or a goal and

even if he robs someone for a lot of money, at some

point he would lose it all. I show him that even when

he had all the power and money, if he has no plan,

he has no chances of ever winning the game.

Essentially, he was lost before the game even



Afterwards, I teach him the simple plan to check in 5

moves with this typical endgame. He quickly picks

up the pattern and you can see the realization in his

eyes. Before I leave the class, I shake Leo's hand

and tell him, "When you wake up tomorrow, you

better have a plan."