WASHINGTON – It's not every day that teenagers get to tell members of Congress how to think.
But that's what four young chess champions did Wednesday on Capitol Hill. With as much patience as they could muster, the teens served as coaches as a team of Republicans played a team of Democrats for a single game.
The lawmakers were competing in the first Congressional Chess Tournament, designed to raise awareness of the game's educational benefits and the importance of introducing chess to young people nationwide. Joining the teen coaches was Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest chess player of all time.
Kasparov and Rex Sinquefield, founder and president of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, made the first six moves. They then turned the game over to four congressmen and Senate Chaplin Barry Black, who filled in until Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., arrived.
"I've been tirelessly promoting the idea of chess as a part of education, as a part of the regular classroom in elementary schools in this country and around the globe, and I think it is very important for us to raise awareness about the good things chess can bring to kids," Kasparov said.
The lawmakers tried their hand at chess to illustrate the critical thinking skills that the game helps children to develop. Sinquefield said the game should be a part of school curricula for every child because "it helps them learn, it helps them study, it drives them into books."
Responsible for the event was the Congressional Chess Caucus and co-chairs Democrat William Clay and Republican Jason Smith, both from Missouri. The caucus hopes to promote the scholastic benefits of chess. The caucus also helped push a resolution, approved unanimously in the Senate last month, designating St. Louis as the chess capital of the U.S.
"It demonstrates that even on Capitol Hill ... whether we're Democrats or Republicans, we can come together for a cause like chess and promote a game that we want to spread throughout this country," Clay said.
All four teens participate in the Young Stars-Team USA program, run through the Kasparov Chess Foundation, which gives them the opportunity for two training sessions with Kasparov each year.
The Democrats were assisted by Ashritha Eswaran, 13, of San Jose, California, and Sam Sevian, 13, of Southbridge, Massachusetts, while the Republicans had Kayden Troff, 16, of West Jordan, Utah, and Jeffrey Xiong, 13, of Coppell, Texas.
The game started off with Kasparov on the Republican side and Sinquefield with the Democrats playing, before they handed the board to Clay and Smith.
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., who played later, had no qualms about getting advice mid-game from Jeffrey. "How do you develop a piece?" he asked the teenager.
"Move it," Jeffrey responded, with a slight smile.
"Which way? Which one?" Luetkemeyer asked.
The Republicans won the game. Representatives from both sides were quick to credit the teen coaches.