One board. Sixty-four little black and white squares. Thirty-two pieces, half of them white, half of them black.
What is this, you ask?
Chess. Some call it nerdy, some call it confusing, and a select few in history even call it their life. But at the Weber County Library's Chess Club, which meets every Wednesday in Ogden, chess is just fun.
The 20 to 30 kids who come every week or so love the game. You can tell by the way they smile as they walk through the door, by the way the atmosphere is friendly and carefree, and by the way everyone plays with good sportsmanship.
The man in charge of all this, coordinator Zandro Santiago, has been running the successful club for about nine years now. Under his supervision, the Weber County Library System now has another club that meets Thursdays at the Pleasant Valley branch in Washington Terrace. Both clubs are split up into three levels of players -- elite, advanced and beginner.
The elites are usually teenagers and they help to teach and help other kids as well as set up and clean up. They are the strongest players in the club who help the coordinator. The majority of members are in the advanced group, a group who can play fairly well and may range from 18 years old to as young as 5. The beginners are starting players who still need help learning how to play and move.
"There are about 12 teenagers in a given day, maybe 18 teens if they all came together," Santiago says.
When asked why chess appeals to teens, or even just people in general, he explains, "Well, it doesn't. It appeals to thinkers, people who want a challenge, who want to think. Chess challenges teens to think differently and to apply logic."
Santiago also believes that chess will never be obsolete.
"Chess is transcendent through time," he says. "It's so old that its age has been argued about and it's probably older than a lot of the board games out there and it's still here. It's a challenge in a digital world, something connectable, tangible, and there's something rewarding in the lesson at the end of each session of chess club. It makes thinking physical."
This same train of thought seems to have passed on to all the teenagers in theclub.
Luke Linford, a junior at Ogden High, says, "I like how it makes you think in a variety of ways and I love how chess gives you the opportunity to out-think your opponent."
Linford's been playing chess since he was 3 but didn't "get serious about it" until he was about 11. He now competes occasionally in tournaments, as do other players in the club, and has won a couple of trophies.
The Ogden High student started coming to the club several years ago: "My mom and I were walking in the library and I saw these kids from the club playing chess. It seemed fun, so I started going after that," he says.
A senior from Roy High, Anthony Gale, says, "I think (chess) is fun! It really makes your mind think and it's not just about moving pieces."
"Chess is mentally challenging, you have to think," agrees Cherish Springer, an eighth-grader from Orion Junior High who is also an elite member of the club.
The club is popular for a variety of reasons.
"I like that it's free and it's an open opportunity for everyone," Linford says.
Senior Mikel Robbins from Da Vinci Academy adds, "It's close to home."
"There are nice people here, who play chess well," says Austin Roberts, a junior at Da Vinci.
Using your mind
The environment at the chess club, even a visitor could see, is comfortable and everyone treats everyone like friends. Santiago, with a beaming smile and a loud voice, jokes with everyone and even plays a few games with the kids, teaching and playing at the same time.
Jonathon Taylor, a recent high school graduate, says he likes the club because he's able to get volunteer work done here.
"The greatest thing about this club is that the kids teach the kids. And we teach them a lot," he says.
One positive about the game of chess is how it teaches kids to use their minds. From chess, anyone can learn patience, thinking ahead, weighing consequences and cause and effect, and apply these techniques to real life.
Roberts says, "When I play chess, I think of a strategy, thinking of why I want to do something. I can do the same thing in life."
Taylor agrees, saying the game helps him because of "the strategy, the thought."
"Chess helps develop the way I think ... I like being able to use my mind in a different way," Linford says.
So, if you're ever bored on a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon and want to do something a little different than video games or Facebook, try a game of chess. The club will welcome you no matter how much you know, what level you're at, or how old you are.
As Linford says, "Chess is a game for anyone. Anyone can learn, anyone can beat anyone, and anyone can be good, boy or girl, 6 or 60."
Minna Wang is a junior at NUAMES. She loves to hang out with friends, listen to music and text. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FUN CHESS FACTS
* The knight -- the piece that looks like a horse -- is the only piece that doesn't move in a straight line; it moves in an "L" shape.
* The knight and the rook are the only pieces that can jump over other pieces. The rook can only jump during a move called a "castle."
* The only time a king can move two spaces is when castling happens.
* "En passant," a move in which a pawn can kill an enemy pawn that has moved past it, can only happen on the fifth and sixth ranks, or rows, of the board.
* When setting up a board to start playing, a white square must be at the bottom right-hand corner and the queen must be on her own color, i.e. white queen on a white square.