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Youngsters teach patients chess at South Elgin rehab center
By Eileen O. Daday | Daily Herald Columnist

Lucy Abrahamson, 9, of Lake Barrington explains chess to Glinda Parker. Kids from the Chess Without Borders summer camp taught residents the game at South Elgin Rehabilitation and Health Care Center.

 

Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Peter Abrahamson, 11, of Lake Barrington, right, and Jack Bradley, 6, of Barrington play chess with a resident at the Elgin rehab facility.

 

Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/28/2010 12:00 AM

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An articulate group of children mixed with adult patients last week at the South Elgin Rehabilitation and Health Care Center. Their medium: chess, and it turned out to be a heck of an icebreaker.

The children ranged in age from kindergartners to fifth-graders. They were coming off a week of Chess Without Borders summer camp at Barrington High School, led by the 2008 U.S. champion Yury Shulman.

A similar camp takes place next week at Quest Academy in Palatine, when Shulman presents his unique approach to learning chess, complete with four grand masters on the staff.

The camps are an outgrowth of after-school programs run by Shulman in Barrington, Palatine, Cary, Fox River Grove and Glendale Heights.

"I remember when I was young and playing in masters tournaments with players from around the world," Shulman said. "None of us spoke the same language, but after the games, we'd have no trouble communicating about chess."

That philosophy continues to drive his camps, where chess instruction is the hook, but a broader approach to serving others is incorporated.

Earlier this month, campers learned about the Citizens for Conservation Corps in Barrington before making a donation. Another camper, Joseph Jazwinski, 10, of Cary led his peers in a project that collected care packages for troops in Afghanistan.

On this particular day, however, they arrived to share their chess know-how with these unsuspecting adults.

Peter Abrahamson, 11, of Lake Barrington and Jack Bradley, 6, of Barrington both wanted to play Mike Trojanowicz at the center, who already knew how to play the game, and they had no hesitation in approaching him.

"I usually start by helping them open with better moves," Peter said. "Then, I try to get them to think ahead, to see where they are threatened."

Jack says he plays regularly with his grandfather, Paul Petraitis of Barrington Hills, both in person and online.

Petraitis was on hand for the rehab center visit, where he continued to marvel at the youngsters and their confidence in teaching the game.

"I hadn't played chess in 35 years," Paul Petraitis said. "Now, I'm hooked. For an older person, you learn concentration and thinking ahead. For the kids, I see how it develops their logic and strategy."

One of those on hand from the chess club was Fremd High School junior Sujit Johnston, 16, of Rolling Meadows, who is serving as an intern with the group.

He started playing chess in fifth grade before attending one of the Chess Without Borders camps and playing in its tournaments. Last winter, he placed fifth at the IHSA state chess finals.

"The camps had a lot of drills and we'd go through games of former grand masters," Sujit said. "But I liked how they brought in service, and helping people all around the world."

Lucy Abrahamson, 9, watched both her older brothers play chess and she wanted to learn herself. After attending one of the camps, she says, she now feels enough confidence to teach adults.

"I just try and explain all of the pieces and what moves it takes to capture someone," Lucy explained.

Her opponent at the rehab center, Glenda Parker, conceded she had minimal knowledge of the game and kept reverting back to her knowledge of checkers.

"She's teaching me where to place these pieces and how to jump," Parker said. "It's hard, but I'm getting it. I like the fact that I'm still learning."

For more details about Chess Without Borders, visit shulmanchess.com.