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Chess guru mates skill with learning for Brookfield school club

Feb. 12, 2013

Taylor Price is learning a lot more about playing chess this year than she did last year while part of a six-week, lunch-time chess club at St. John Vianney School in Brookfield.

The fifth-grader has moved well beyond the basics and into the intricate strategies of the game, thanks to Reinhard Zaiser, a parent who just happens to be a chess aficionado.

Zaiser, whose son is in first grade, volunteered to take the chess club to a higher level this year by offering a weekly 90-minute session after school.

Zaiser learned chess while growing up in Germany. He has played at a master's level. He also is an established author who has written extensively on the intricacies of the game.

Taylor said she enjoys what Zaiser has been teaching.

"I started playing because my older brother was playing," she said. "I had no clue about the strategy. Now when I play I have to think a lot about what I'm going to move and how I'm going to move."

Mom likes club

That lesson about strategy is what makes Taylor's mother, Karen Price, happy that Zaiser has volunteered his services.

"He just took over the program and he asked us as parents to volunteer," Price said. "I think it's great that he is willing to give of his time. It's a nice thing for the kids because most activities are sports related and this is something that they can do for intellectual fun."

She noted that Zaiser groups the students according to their ability, not their grade, and the resulting social advantage.

"It's nice that they can interact with students from different grades," Price said.

She and other parents said learning and playing chess is teaching their children how each move has to be calculated and that it helps sharpen their thinking skills. They point out benefits such as improving their ability to problem solve.

Learning, then playing

To do that, Zaiser uses more than one approach.

At first, he provides charts and other visuals to help the students learn the chess pieces and the moves. He most recently arranged a large circle of student chess players around him. He then went to each board and began playing every student in the circle.

"I try to keep it as interesting as possible," he said. "It is fun but also educational. There are studies that show that when students play chess their grades go up. Maybe it helps them concentrate and be more analytical and logical."

Zaiser said the best chess players in the world need to be both mentally and physically sharp to do well in long matches.

"I have played for 40 years," he said. "I wish I had more time to give to the students."

A few of the students have expressed an interest in participating in the annual March Madness Tournament, a student chess competition at the Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc. Zaiser said it would be a good experience.

"This is only the first year that we have been doing the after-school club, so it may take them some time to be able to do well in competition," he said. "But it would be something that might inspire them to compete."

Volunteer talents

St. John Vianney Principal Pam Pyzyk sees the Chess Club enhancement as more than an educational benefit.

"Here we had a club that historically was offered during a six-week period over the lunch period and now we have someone who has improved on the club," Pyzyk said. "It's really great when parents can volunteer their time and talent to the school."

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