Chess can be a challenging game for many adults, but not for 10-year-old Brian Belakovsky.
Belakovsky has been playing chess for four years. He said the game helped him jump a grade, and take more advanced math classes.
“I don’t feel any special. It is not really that much for me. I want to expand way more,” Belakovsky said.
Belakovsky has two siblings Ariela, 5, and Connor, 7, who are just as passionate about the game. They all learned chess from their mother, Anjelina Belakovskaia, a three-time U.S. Women’s Chess champion, and who also started competing at a young age.
She said this game could benefit kids in many different ways.
“Chess develops critical thinking, and I think it is one of the most important abilities that helps not just in chess but in life,” Belakovskaia said.
As a founder of Belakovskaia Chess Academy, and 2000 New York University graduate with a master’s degree in financial mathematics, she said she wants to encourage more girls to study business and science.
Playing chess is one way to do it, she said.
“I have noticed that chess is really beneficial for the academic success, and it is interesting because it helps in numerical and with reading and writing, verbal abilities, and it helps to improve memory, imagination and visual skills,” Belakovskaia said.
By organizing events like the All-Girls Chess Tournament, she said hopes more girls will start competing.
Karryn Macneil is one of 27 girls playing at the event. At the age of five, she already knows the rules by heart.
“Checkmating is winning the game because he is in check, because he can’t move anywhere else with his king. Pins are pieces right in front of bishop or something, and if another person moves or something is in check, it will take your queen and stuff like that,“ Macneil said.
Steve Ostapuk is a chess coach, and he said in most chess clubs, boys outnumber girls almost 6 to 1.
As a coach, he has noticed that boys tend to be better at spatial observations, while girls are more likely to keep notes and meticulously plan the next move.
But, he said, no matter who is playing and at what age, chess is more than just a game.
“To me playing chess is an art, it is a science and it is a sport. Some students like it because there is competing side to it; some like it because it is like a puzzle,” Ostapuk said. “That is why chess is fun at early age, it is fun at a medium age, it is also the adults, cause every game is different, every situation is different.”
In many countries, such as the U.K., Armenia, Israel and Paraguay, chess is already included in the elementary school curriculum, Belakovskaia said.
Her dream is to establish similar chess-in-school programs in the Southwest.
And she said the 2nd annual Chess and Science Festival brings this dream closer to reality.
In the meantime, she teaches her kids at home while reminding them that the game is about more than just winning.
“I want my children to become successful, and I want to make sure that they know that there are no limits, and if they set a goal they can achieve it…(and) if they can beat me…provide competition, I will be very happy,” she said.