Research shows that playing chess makes you smarter. Now, a local teenager is working to improve the lives of underprivileged children by teaching them chess.
Ashley Priore created a non-profit four years ago when she was 14-years old, and now, she has four employees teaching chess at 50 locations. On top of that, she’s organizing the first ever chess conference, the largest chess event ever in Pittsburgh, happening June 1 and 2 in Oakland, for both experts and people who want to learn.
For 1,500 years, the game of chess has captivated kids, even with the temptations of today’s technology. The kids in the after-school program at Community Forge in Wilkinsburg are embracing it. Nine-year-old Kai Livsey says, “For activity time, I play (chess) every time we come here.” Eleven-year-old Ebun Ogunyemi adds, “It helps make you think and concentrate.”
Mike Skirpan, director of Community Forge, says, “I was actually blown away by how many kids quickly adapted and want to be playing chess as opposed to being on a screen.”
Priore knows the game’s allure. She fell in love with chess when she was 4, started competing and began teaching chess when she was 8. She says life is much like chess. “When you’re given a situation, you consider what you can make out of that because there are so many limitations but there are also so many possibilities,” she says.
Priore created a non-profit called “Queen’s Gambit,” which is the term for a chess strategy because she wanted to give all kids an opportunity to learn chess, especially those who may not be able to afford paid clubs or camps.
She and her team now teach at 50 libraries, schools and after-school programs around the region, all while she finishes her senior year at Ellis School in Shadyside.
There are so many benefits to playing chess. Research shows playing chess improves concentration, problem solving, memory, creativity, even reading skills. Skirpan says chess players have a reputation for being smart, so “to me, it’s all about that identity formation, empowerment, belief in yourself, and I think you’re already seeing some of that already,” he says of the kids in the Community Forge program.
“They find they learn so much more about themselves,” Priore says of her chess students. “They love winning trophies. Every class gives out ribbons and trophies, but it’s when they lose, they realize that ‘Hey, I was given a really hard position but here’s how I can improve it next time.'”
Priore is now organizing a chess conference ever in Pittsburgh on June 1 and 2, with professional chess Grandmasters coming and an all-female tournament. Plus, there will be tournaments for kids of all levels and lessons for beginners.
Kai Livsey was asked why wanted to teach her friend, Laniya Stanley, the game of chess. She said, “Because she’s my best friend, and I wanted to teach her the basics and everything I know.” Stanley said, “The first time I played, I was so close to winning but then we had to call a draw.” Livsey replied, “I like it when it’s a draw and we both win equally.”
One of the best things about chess is that the game, itself, can cost less than $10 to buy the board and pieces so it’s affordable for everyone. Win, lose or draw, the lessons they learn from chess will make them all winners at life.
You can get more information on the tournament happening at Schenley Plaza and the University of Pittsburgh on the Queen’s Gambit website: