Sweet honey in the rook Chess enthusiast teaches kids the art of the game

Music has often been called a universal language, but Secaucus resident Shawn Moss may argue that the game of chess – with its black and white rooks and pawns, kings and queens – is also a universal language with the same power to cross boundaries and unite people.

As proof, Moss told the story last week of a man he once played against.

“He would rock his body back and forth like this,” Moss demonstrated, moving his torso a few inches forward and a few inches back. “And he had this strange tick, this thing he would do as he removed pieces from the board.”

Again Moss demonstrated, wrapping four fingers around a pawn, then rolling the chess piece in and out of his pinky and ring finger before clasping the piece in his palm and placing it to the side of the chessboard. The two demonstrations, and other information Moss mentioned, leave one with the impression that Moss’ opponent may have been a differently-abled person.

“But I tell you,” Moss said, “this guy was a terrific chess player.”

And therein lies the power of the game.

Moss said he has played against people who he otherwise might pass on the street without noticing.

“I’ve played in airports. I’ve played at bus stops. Through chess, I’ve been able to meet and play with people who I wouldn’t even be able to talk to because I speak English and they speak another language,” Moss said. “But we’re able to communicate through the game.”

The better your opposition, the better you get

Moss, a 34-year-old Secaucus resident, likely does not consider himself to be a “language” teacher in the classic sense of the term. But he has been teaching chess to Secaucus youngsters for several years.

The classes, held the third Thursday of every month at the Secaucus Public Library from 3:30 to 5 p.m., attract roughly six to 12 students each time they are offered. Moss estimates he has probably taught dozens of youngsters over the years.

“When I’m teaching,” he said, “I always have more experienced stronger students play against newer students who may be weaker at the game. Now, that might seem counterintuitive because, at first, the weaker students may lose a lot of games. But you always learn more from your losses than from your wins.”

And what’s in it for the more advanced student who gets to blow the newbie chess player out of the water?

Moss explained that advanced students improve their own game, and their own understanding of chess, when they are forced to explain rules and strategies to beginners.

“When you can explain an advanced concept to a beginner, and have that beginner understand what you mean, then you truly understand that concept yourself,” Moss explained.

An avid chess player who carries a board and pieces with him wherever he goes, Moss bemoans the fact that chess is not taught as a regular part of the academic curriculum in most U.S. school systems. He said that chess is taught in elementary-level schools in 30 other nations in the world.

“In places where chess is taught and is a mandatory part of the school system, if you compare the United States to those countries,” Moss stated, “we perform much lower in math and sciences than those other countries.”

Numerous academic and scientific studies have concluded that when chess is taught to kids, the game can improve their ability to think abstractly, weigh competing options, juggle multiple options simultaneously, think concretely, and focus better, according to the United States Chess Federation.

Another avid chess player, Benjamin Franklin, outlined what he considered to be the many “moral” teachings of the game in his book Autobiography and Other Writings, a work Moss highly recommends to passionate players.

Among Franklin’s observations: “The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions, for life is a kind of chess.”

Practicing what he teaches

“I think the greatest lesson I can give anyone, especially anyone that is new to the game, is patience,” Moss said. “More games are lost by moving too fast than almost anything else.”

“One of the first things I try to teach is, if you touch a piece you should move it,” he continued. “It’s like in life, when you make a decision, whether it’s good or bad, you have to suffer the consequences.”

Although chess has blossomed into one of the major passions of his life, Bikram yoga and holistic physical fitness being others, Moss seemed not to remember his very first introduction to the game.

“I guess I started playing when I was really young and throughout school I just liked it, even though there was no chess club or anything like that here when I was younger,” he remembered. He and a couple of friends “would just play at lunch sometimes. As I got older I got more into the game.”

Since then Moss has met some of his closest friends through the game.

Years ago, while studying yoga at an ashram in upstate New York, an woman grew excited when she saw Moss’ e-mail address listed among those of the other students. Turns out the two had long played chess online together and had developed a friendship via the Internet.

Moss may well meet lots of new friends over the next few months as he prepares to compete in the World Open Chess Tournament, coming up later this spring.

He plans to play at least one hour everyday from now until the competition begins.

“With anything I study, the more I learn the more I realize that I know absolutely nothing,” Moss said of his long journey with chess.

He acknowledged that, while his students may see him as a master player, he will be like a beginner at the World Open, where many players will be more advanced than him.

He’s not worried about losing. After all, the losses make him better.

Moss’ next free chess class at the Secaucus Public Library will be held on Thurs., Feb. 21 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Players ages 5 and up are welcome. Subsequent classes will be held the third Thursday of each month at the same time.

Moss invites strong chess players to contact him so he can continue his daily training schedule as he prepares for the World Open. He can be reached at (201) 600-5140.


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