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Patrick Henry students show off their moves in human chess game
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Students at Patrick Henry Elementary School gathered Monday for a game of chess that was out of the ordinary. Students portrayed chess pieces and moved about on a life-size chess board as their peers rallied behind each team. The game is used to show children how to play chess as well as to get them interested in the game. (Bulletin photo)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Chess club students at Patrick Henry Elementary School (PHES) on Monday recreated one of the most famous chess games in history.

Chess club “queen” Laura Steere teaches chess as an after-school elective. She has organized two “human chess games” at PHES and three at Albert Harris Elementary School (AHES).

On Monday, 32 students gathered on a giant chessboard in the PHES gym, each dressed as a chess piece. One team wore blue and the other red.

As the audience — which included PHES students, parents and faculty — entered the gym, they were divided into two groups: the red side and the blue side.

When the game began, Steere called out moves, and the selected “piece” walked to his or her spot. When one human chess piece tapped out a member of the opposing side, the winning side erupted in cheers.

Steere said she and her husband, Rick Steere, have attended medieval festivals and seen similar human chess games, and “we thought this would be a fun way to bring chess to life for the kids.”

When she put together the first PHES human chess game last year, she said, the chess club had decent attendance.

“The second year,” she said, “we had over 100 kids apply for the 16 spots, because they saw it last year and they all wanted to do it. The enthusiasm is just crazy.”

The chess club meets once a week after school for 10 weeks, Steere said. The game is not only fun, but a good teaching tool, she added.

“They have to plan and think of strategies and consequences,” she said. “It’s a thinking game.”

The game that the students recreated is a famous one, Steere said, dating to 1858.

“It’s considered in chess circles to be one of the most beautifully executed short games,” she said, explaining its significance to the audience.

As the story goes, in 1858, German noble Duke Karl of Brunswick and French aristocrat Count Isouard invited American chess master Paul Morphy to an opera in Paris.

Morphy was excited to see the opera, but when he arrived, he found that the duke and the count, both avid chess players, wanted to partner against him in a game, rather than allow him to watch the opera in peace.

According to Steere, Morphy responded by playing an elegant — and short-lived — game. Only 16 moves were made before the duke and count were defeated, and Morphy was free to enjoy the rest of the opera.

The red team won Monday’s game, but all of the participating chess club members received certificates and ribbons from Steere.


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