Eric Qi (pronounced “Chee”) breezes into the library at Desert Cove Elementary School for the Friday chess club meeting Friday after school. Chessboards are being set up and pieces are being placed. But he doesn’t watch students play chess. Instead, he sets up a stand displaying a giant chess board with pockets that hold the pieces so he can instruct the kids, ranging in age from preschool to sixth grade, in the finer points chess strategy.
The students, having just come from an all-school assembly involving all-school cheering and screaming, are squirmy and silly as they arrange themselves on the floor around the chess board. Qi, 17, a senior at Pinnacle High School, asks calmly, “Who wants to learn a good opening?” Immediately the kids start asking questions, hands waving in the air, even as Qi starts to explain.
He moves to the next, older group of kids sitting in chairs surrounding the board. In minutes they abandon their chairs and crowd around the board, eager to comment and watch. Qi teaches them a discovery to reveal an opponent’s attack, unfazed by the talkative, boisterous students.
Then he moves to the oldest group, where it is standing room only around the board. Somehow the students appear to be listening, learning and talking simultaneously. They remember chess moves, names of defenses and answers to the arcane chess questions Qi poses.
Qi has been playing chess since fourth grade and teaching it for about four years. He’s been at Desert Cove for more than two years. Connor Hughes, now in seventh grade, and his brother Brady were taking Qi’s class somewhere else and asked him to come to Desert Cove to teach chess.
Finally the boards and pieces are packed up for the day, Qi says that what he likes about the chess club is that the students come to learn something new and want to improve. Good chess players, he says, think about their strategy before they begin the game.
Qi hopes to study economics in college and plans to keep teaching kids to play chess wherever he goes.