PROVO — Chess may be the game of kings, but on Saturday it was of kids, age 5 to 13.

This time the setting for the centuries-old game of strategy was a first-ever tournament between Rock Canyon and Meridian schoolchildren held at Rock Canyon Elementary School, which challenged Meridian, a private Provo school.

"It's like war," said Patrick Bay, 9, of Meridian.

Patrick, like many of the children, began playing chess in kindergarten. Rock Canyon's Zane Openshaw, 8, practices his moves with his dad, who taught him to "show no mercy," he said.

"I like checkmating people, like my dad," he said.

"It's exciting. Most of these kids have never played in a tournament," Meridian headmaster Dave Hennessey said.

In fact, the Meridian chess club is scarcely a month old. The budding chess players meet every Tuesday after school to practice against each other. But students are learning more than a few chess moves.

"They learn how to think ahead — how to see the bigger picture," Hennessey said.

This generation wants a fast turnaround and instant gratification. Chess teaches them patience, he said.

"It's this incredible tool to teach kids to see down the road, which is a great life skill," said Rock Canyon chess coach Mary Elizabeth Christensen.

Through chess youngsters can see the effects of their decisions, she said. It teaches problem solving and critical thinking.

Patrick, who won his first round, started the game by capturing his opponent's queen. The game helps his concentration.

"It makes you really smart," he said.

Students used simple rules in the tournament — no time clocks or notekeeping. But if they touched a chessman they had to play it, Meridian chess coach Milton Moody said. The students decided among themselves who won each game, with Moody watching over them to resolve any rules issues.

"They go with the rules as they know them. If there's a problem they call me," he said. The students are so new at it "they're lucky if they can finish a game."

Rock Canyon teachers set up 32 chess boards for the 52 students who signed up to compete. First-, second- and third-place winners were announced in each grade with an open division, mostly for seventh- and eighth-graders.


E-mail: rodger@desnews.com