Mike's Story

Mike is one of our students for whom Chess Club has had a life-changing impact. At seven years old, and with no previous chess experience, Mike placed 2nd in chess tournaments - an incredible accomplishment. His family was elated by his success. Those at the Tournament who witnessed Mike’s radiant smile as he accepted the award could not have guessed that he had overcome enormous obstacles in the years prior.

After being abandoned by his mother and father, Mike had temporarily stayed with a series of relatives before coming to live with his aunt. She was a loving guardian, but unable to cope with Mike’s outbursts and behavioral challenges.

“We had reached our wits’ end,” she told us. “We were prepared to put him in foster care. We signed him up for Chess Club as a last resort, just to give him something to do for a couple hours so we could take a break. But then something happened in Chess Club. He became calmer, he became more respectful, he totally changed.” As she looked at Mike laughing and smiling across the room, she said, “When I see him now, I can’t believe we were ever going to give this child up.”

Stories like this are not an anomaly. It is well documented that chess is a powerful tool for developing high order thinking skills, creativity, and memory. Chess helps students develop high-level critical thinking and problem-solving skills that improve self-esteem, behavior and academic performance. In 2003, the U.S. Congress commissioned a study of CFS that concluded that CFS has accomplished its primary goal of training and enabling children to be patient and analytical in all problem-solving situations so that there is an increase in their academic achievement and self-esteem.

“I never thought I could be good at anything,” Mike told us. At seven years old, he had already been exposed to so much trauma and hardship that he doubted himself, his dreams, and his own abilities. Thousands of children like Mike who come from low- and moderate-income households, rural areas, and communities of color, face these same obstacles and are not gaining the skills they need due to the adverse effects of poverty, diminished resiliency and barriers to educational equity. The key to changing the narrative for these students is building skills within our youth that will give them the opportunity for success in school and life. Chess for Success is proud to offer extracurricular activities that contribute to students’ self image and resiliency.