By: E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
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.”
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– GM Susan Polgar