About Chess for Success

Fir Grove

Chess for Success is much more than a recreational, after-school club. It's a youth development program, provided at no cost to families, that closes the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged and minority youth.

Through learning chess, students develop high-level critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that improve self-esteem, behavior, and academic performance, including attendance, grades, and test scores.

Long-term, our goals include improving high-school graduation rates, participation in STEM programs and careers, and college/workplace readiness, ending the cycle of poverty for at-risk youth. 


1992: The Portland Chess Project, a pilot program funded through a four-year grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, was established in nine of the worst-performing schools in the Portland Public District; 200 students participated. The program was co-founded by three friends, fathers, and philanthropists: Frank Eiseman, Phillip Margolin, and Dick Roy.

1996: At the end of the pilot project, Chess for Success, a 501(3)(c) nonprofit organization, is established.

1998: Chess for Success takes resposibility for presenting the Oregon State Chess Tournament.

2003: The U.S. Congress commissioned a study of Chess for Success that compared program participants to students from the same school who were not involved in the program.

2006: The final report of the two-year study showed that Chess for Success had accomplished its primary goal of enabling children to be patient and analytical in all problem-solving situations so that there is an increase in their academic achievement at self-esteem. Chess for Success also had an impact on increasing the interest of strong proportion of girls in analytical probel solving, which in turn should increase their participation in mathematics and engineering programs and careers.

2014-2015: Chess for Success served 3,290 students in 78 schools, 17 districts, 7 counties, and 2 states with after-school programming, plus 1,900 students participated in Chess for Success tournaments. 

The demand for Chess for Success continues to grow, as does the wait list. Chess for Success relies on support from individuals, businesses, foundations, and government entities, and can reach as many students/schools as funding enables. 


Frank Eiseman
Frank and his wife, Gerda, have always been philanthropists and believed in the value of giving back to the community. They knew the hardships that many low-income children were facing in education, and saw chess as a way to provide the tools students need to succeed. (Gerda’s brother had developed a chess program in Seattle.) When the initial grant for the Portland Chess Project expired, at 82 years old, Frank spearheaded the fundraising efforts to ensure that the program continued. Frank passed away in 1998. His legacy lives on, and his family remains actively involved in the organization. 

Phillip Margolin
As a child, Phil says he was a terrible student with low self-esteem, a short attention span, and bad grades, which resulted in his being placed in a class for slow learners. In the 7th grade, he became fascinated with chess and learned that to succeed you must move slowly and think methodically. When Phil started winning against his teachers, his confidence improved and so did his grades. He looked at school the same way he looked at chess. Phil became a lawyer and New York Times best-selling author. He coached the Hayhurst Chess Club for 16 years before co-founding the Portland Chess Project.  

Dick Roy
In 1976, Dick started a chess club at Robert Gray School for his son Jeff.  Soon, about 25% of the student body came to the library every Wednesday evening to play chess. Moving up through the school system along with his children, in 1989, his final year as coach, Wilson High School’s chess club won the National High School Chess Team Championship. It was the only team in the top five that was an open-enrollment public high school and was not coached by a chess master. That spurred Dick to create a chess program for at-risk children, and he is credited with securing the grant to esablish the Portland Chess Project.  Dick is a graduate of Harvard Law School and practiced corporate law at Stoel Rives from 1970 to 1993.  He and his wife, Jeanne, are leaders in the emergent northwest sustainability movement.