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Chess master gives passion to kids

On the outside they wiggled and giggled, made faces and noises and just couldn't sit still. But all eyes were glued to the chess boards in front of them, their minds focused and intent on playing the best chess they could play.

The fifth annual K-12 school chess tournament was held Monday at Chester Park Elementary. Chess appeared to be anything but a subtle game in the school's cafeteria. It was clear the kids were excited to be there.

"I just like games with strategy," said Chester Park student Peter Whiteman after a tie breaking round with a Lester Park student.

Greg Ciurleo, who assists the chess club at Chester Park, said chess is more than just fun for the kids. It helps develop their minds.

"It's really a great skill for them," Ciurleo said. "It's great to see them improving over the course of the year. They really develop their higher thinking."

By the end of the tournament, Central High School took home the first place trophy. Second place went to Marshall, third place went to Woodland and Lakeview took fourth place. Chester and Congdon elementary schools played a tie-breaker round, with Congdon finally taking home the trophy. Chester took second place and Nettleton took third place.

For individual awards, Gregory Deckahm from Chester Park took the first place medal, Yiming Liu from Congdon got second place, and Jay Amato from Congdon and Sam Johnson from Summit tied for third place. Four Central students tied for first place with perfect scores. They are Andy McKinnon, Nick Hannula, Eric Kessler and Jamie Blodgett.

Congdon surprised everyone, having joined the School Chess Association just two months ago. Yiming Liu, a third-grader, got the silver medal. His brother is a new chess player, too.

"These two brothers, good players," said chess coach and chess champion Milan Chorkovich. "In just two months they improved unbelievably. I'm impressed."

In a thick Bosnian accent, Chorkovich explained how he coaches chess to ensure the future of kids. When kids are engaged in chess, they don't have time to monkey around and get in trouble, he said.

"What I came to conclude, when you play chess and quickly make decisions and make a bad move, you will lose game. It's the same in life. Same with kids who go to drugs, go to crime. They will lose game. You must think before you do anything," Chorkovich said.

In addition to building their self-esteem, chess enhances thinking on all levels: analytical, strategical and problem solving. When Chorkovich taught one of his ex-wife's grandchildren how to play chess, the child's grades went from B's and C's to all A's in just a few months.

"Chess makes kids smarter. Yes, absolutely," he said.

In a January 2000 issues of "Chess Life," grandmaster chess player Maurice {IMG2}Ashley, a proponent of chess for youths, tells the story how one boy, a truant, discovered chess and "got hooked." The chess club met before school, and because of it the boy came to school every day, attended class regularly and developed self-respect and discipline.

Chorkovich started passing on his passion for chess to Stowe school students in 1997, when he volunteered to teach chess after school. The next year he taught at five schools, and the year after that at seven schools. He now teaches more than 200 students at 10 schools.

"I just want to do something for kids and chess," Chorkovich said.

A multiple state and local champion, as well as a Canadian chess master, Chorkovich takes great pride in his numerous trophies, medals and plaques. He's played chess for more than 40 years. In Europe, and in his home town of Bosnia, chess is an everyday occurrence. Parks set aside space specifically for chess. Chorkovich remembers how at school, when it was too cold to play outside, children stayed inside to play chess instead.

When he came to Duluth in 1988, he was astonished that so few people played chess. Some were even afraid of it, he said, thinking they weren't smart enough to learn. When such a comment is uttered, Chorkovich waves his hand in a nonsense gesture.

He believes if kids can learn chess and benefit from it, anyone can.

"Whenever I meet any chess player, they are good people. They are patient," Chorkovich said. Everything is put on scale -- is it good or not good?"

News to Use

A Scholastic Chess Tournament, sponsored by the Twin Ports Chess Club and the School Chess Association, will be held at the Rainbow Senior Center, 211 N. Third Ave. E., on Saturday, May 17. Entry fee is $3. The tournament is open to any student who was in Kindergarten through 12th grade this year. No elimination; everybody will play five rounds. Beginners are especially welcome. For more information, call Milan Chorkovich at 727-2649 or Mike Burr at 768-2029.