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Game plan

Charlestown chess club helps local students prepare to compete nationally

Created date

July 19th, 2016
Baltimore City College student Adrian Murphy plays chess with Charlestown resident Harry Geelhaar.

Baltimore City College student Adrian Murphy plays chess with Charlestown resident Harry Geelhaar.

David Pollitt developed a love for chess in high school. Now the retired pastor and resident of Charlestown, an Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., helps a new generation fall in love with the game. 

David and his fellow members of Charlestown’s chess club pair up with students ages 7 to 16 from Cross Country Elementary Middle School to help them prepare for national chess tournaments.

“The kids come to Charlestown a few times a year, and we play chess, have lunch, and socialize,” says David. “Many of them have been playing chess from a young age, and they often beat us.” 

Bridging generations

The idea for the intergenerational matchup came from Ronald Lindsay, a housekeeping utility worker at Charlestown. Lindsay has been the Cross Country chess team’s assistant coach since 2005 when his sons, now ages 16 and 17, first joined the team. Lindsay first approached David with the idea three years ago, and the two groups have been playing together ever since. 

“I simply love the game of chess,” says Lindsay. “It is rewarding to watch beginners transcend into competitive players and reach out to teach other new players.”

The Cross Country team has traveled as far west as California, where they placed second in the National Chess Tournament. In addition, they have traveled to Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, and Indiana.

Playing with members of the Charlestown Chess Club gives the students an opportunity to learn from more seasoned chess players. Every game of chess played serves as an opportunity to learn. Whether through conversation or the art of observation, the students get to learn information that they might have never otherwise known.

“Charlestown residents have a wealth of knowledge and interesting stories to share, and playing chess with the youth is one way to get their stories told,” says Lindsay.

The Charlestown chess club meets every Monday from noon until 3 p.m. 

“We currently have 13 players, and the skill level varies,” says David. “We will teach anyone who wants to play. We are happy to sit down and show you how the pieces move and talk with you about strategy.” 

For David, chess is more than just having fun. “It stimulates your brain for a healthy mind,” he says. “A major part of playing chess is not just how you are going to move, but how your opponent is going to move. You develop the skills to analyze and solve problems, and learn to focus on a strategy and follow through with it.” 

Game changer

In fact, a study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found seniors who regularly read or play games that stimulate brain function—like chess, Scrabble, or jigsaw puzzles—are two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.  

Charlestown resident Margaret Gardner says playing chess has improved her concentration and taught her the virtue of patience.

“I enjoy chess and find it very intellectually challenging,” says Margaret. “When I first started playing, I was anxious. Whenever it was my turn, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I have to make a move.’ Now I find myself thinking about my next move while I’m waiting for my opponent to take their turn.”

Margaret is a newcomer to the game. She started taking lessons in December 2014, just a few months after moving to Charlestown. 

“I was at my daughter’s house for Thanksgiving, and my grandson is an avid chess player. He asked me to play a game with him. On occasion he would try to teach me the game. A few weeks later, I received a flyer in my mailbox from the chess club, and I thought, ‘Boy, this is perfect!’ So I started going to the meetings and practicing online. Over the course of a year, I learned the game.”

David hopes more Charlestown residents like Margaret will join in. 

“We are here to have fun. We try not to take ourselves too seriously,” says David. “My philosophy is ‘I like to win.’ It makes me happy. And if I lose, I make other people happy. So it’s a win-win situation.”