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By Terry Dean
Gabriel Sparkes had about seven chess pieces to his opponent's four.
It was shaping up as a convincing win for the "Shark," as the 9-year-old is called because of his chess skills. But the game got a little out of hand — some of Sparkes' chess pieces kept walking on and off the board.
This was a very different kind of chess game for Sparkes and his classmates at Lincoln Elementary School, 1111 S. Grove Ave. Sparkes' fourth-grade class, along with a fifth-grade class at Lincoln, spent about a half-hour Thursday outside on the school's playground playing "human" chess.
A large chess board was painted on the concrete. The students wore vests with the names of chess pieces on them. Sparkes was his team's chess captain, moving his "chess pieces" from one blue and yellow square to the next.
He won by moving his classmate, the "Queen," to a square near the "King," another female student — checkmate.
"It's really fun … it's actually a lot of pressure," Sparkes said after the game — and of being the captain.
The life-sized chess game was teacher Marvin Childress' idea. He has run the chess club for six years and was looking for a way to get more students, especially girls, involved in playing.
"I thought to myself, let's do a giant chessboard," Childress said. "It's not totally uncommon; let's do one on the playground. So I said it kind of in jest; you throw something out there not really thinking it's going to come to fruition."
After talking with the school's principal, the human chess board was good to go.
"I went to her and she said, 'Yeah, let's do it.' Not expecting that, I was, like, stuck. But she gave me the people to contact to get the project done," Childress said.
Two other Lincoln teachers helped plot out the chess board grid and paint it. It took only three days to do, Childress, a chess player himself, said.
The students started playing human chess last Wednesday. Some played chess before while others are new to the game. The club before used the regular small chess board and pieces. Childress has about 50 kids in the club but many more want to join.
With such large numbers, finding space in the building to play is a challenge, Childress said. The gym and cafeteria are the usual places, with the students playing on several boards. Lincoln's chess club, he noted, is made up of mostly boys.
"I just thought this was a cool way to get girls involved [and] a cool way to bring the element of being physically active. There are no iPods, no iPhones, and they're working together," Childress said. "It's a game where it's one-on-one, but now you're making 16-on-16."
Or 17-on-17 with the captains.
In human chess, the individual pieces can move themselves or they can let their captain make the move. The human chess board is so popular that students who weren't all that interested in learning before suddenly want to now, Childress said. Students, he added, also seem to pick up the rules of the game faster this way.
For students, Childress said the game of chess teaches critical thinking and decision-making. Sparkes, who has played chess before, got his "Shark" nickname from Childress. He said he liked being the captain better because sometimes you're not moved as an individual piece.
McKale Thompson, a fifth-grader, hadn't played human chess before now. She also likes being a captain and likes the game itself.
"I like the strategy to it. It's always changing. It's really fun to figure out because if you want to do something the other person might have a different idea," Thompson, 10, said.