Curtis D. Jones has served as the post commander of The American Legion Cook-Pinkney Post 141 in Annapolis, Maryland for the last four years. The retired Marine Corps GySgt. is known to fight for veterans who need assistance with resources and benefits. However, Jones has also offered support to community members by bringing COVID shots, town hall meetings, back to school events, and even opportunities to help youth learn to play chess at 1707 Forest Dr. in Maryland’s state capital.
“One hundred and twenty kids have come and played chess at The American Legion on Forest Dr. here in Annapolis,” Jones said. “The vision is to get more minority children into chess and also establish an area where we can have an international tournament here in Annapolis or Anne Arundel County.”
Jones added that another part of the vision is to inform youth that playing chess is another way to pay for college.
Since September of 2022, kids as young as five and teens up to 16 years old have been learning chess and playing in tournaments in Annapolis. The DC State Chess Federation has been providing free US Chess Federation (USCF) rated chess tournaments at American Legion Post 141.
The idea began when one of Jones’ friends who resides in Georgia told him that a person in the DC area wanted to start a chess program in Annapolis. Jones said he gave the referred contact named Vaughn Bennett a call. The pair agreed that it was a great idea.
“Learning chess allows kids to start having critical thinking skills which is something you do in life every day. You make moves, and you calculate what move you’re going to make and what’s going to happen if you make the wrong one move,” Jones said.
Bennett brings helpers who also teach chess in Annapolis with him, according to Jones. Jones refers to him as “the chess master.”
“My calling is teaching chess to children, adults, and senior citizens. I am the executive director of the DC State Chess Federation,” Bennett said.
Bennett further explained that he has been playing chess since 1985 and teaching chess for twenty-five years.
“My concentration is on those children who they have labeled as special needs. Chess, properly taught, is a natural Ritalin,” Bennett said.
He mentioned that he has been blessed to see these children and youth become chess champions. Bennett believes that everyone has genius within them. As a teacher, he feels that he has “a duty to go where they are and help release it.”
But Bennett has played a key role in making chess accessible for more youth of any level and background.
“We, (the DC State Chess Federation), give free US Chess Federation (USCF) rated chess tournaments almost every weekend. A couple of months ago, we gave a tournament at American Legion Post 141 in Annapolis,” Bennett said. “We can teach the basics of chess in one session. To become competition ready, it usually takes four or five sessions.”
Jones remarked that his three grandsons learned how to play chess in 45 minutes. Bennett added that during the tournament, he had the privilege of introducing the boys to chess. He noted that the next weekend, the three brothers did something that he had never witnessed before. Despite having only learned the week before, they all played in a rated USCF tournament, and held their own.
Eight-year-old David Cephas, 6-year-old Devin Cephas, and 11-year-old Daniel Cephas are the brothers from Anne Arundel County Maryland who accomplished the feat. They now practice chess at home.
“I like playing chess because I am learning new moves,” Devin said.
David likes playing chess with his other grandfather. Daniel practices the game on his Kindle every other day.
More children from other areas are interested in chess, too. They travel to Annapolis to learn chess and participate in chess tournaments.
“We have people driving their children here from West Virginia, Philadelphia, different areas out of Baltimore, and Ellicott City, so chess is a big thing. People don’t really realize it,” Jones said.
Bennett also explained that chess has been proven to enhance math and reading performance of school age children.
“Properly taught, that outcome is almost guaranteed to happen. More than twenty universities offer full or partial scholarships for chess. Almost every year since 1995, a twelve-or 13-year-old child has been awarded a full scholarship to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County by finishing first place in a tournament called the Maryland Sweet 16 Championship,” Bennett said.
The next chess tournament will be held at American Legion Post 141 on January 28, 2023. Visit https://caissachess.net/online-registration/index/2287 for registration details. Registration closes on January 27, 2023, at 8 p.m. Email vaughn_bennett@yahoo, or text (202) 557-9516, for more information. The American Legion Post 141’s phone number is 410-269-1416.