BY DAIANA KUCAWCA
Reinol Diaz Jr. is 13 and has been playing chess since he was 8. He practices every day for two hours with books, his computer, or his dad. He averages 26 competitions a year and so far has accumulated 22 trophies.
“Homework is a major problem in the way of practicing,” said his dad, Reinol Diaz Sr.
For some kids, it’s the baseball diamond. For others, it’s the gridiron. But Reinol Jr. is one of hundreds of Miami-Dade kids whose lives revolve around the chessboard.
A hotspot for the knights-and-bishops crowd is Reinol’s school, Rockway Middle in Westchester, where Nestor Carrerou teaches an elective chess class and coaches one of the top teams in Florida.
And while skill at chess is unlikely to yield more than a small college scholarship, proponents say the game teaches such important virtues as persistance, problem-solving, confidence, logical reasoning and mental endurance.
Aside from that, players say it’s fun.
“Before, when they had problems in school they would come to me and cry,” said Rosario Diaz, Reinol’s mother. “Now, they have more patience and they do it by themselves.”
Carrerou has been Rockway’s chess teacher and coach for the past 10 years, and the Florida Scholastic Chess League named him Scholastic Coach of the Year for the state in 2009. The best players in his classes form a team that competes at the local, state and national level.
This year, the Rockway Royal Knights team competed at the National Junior High (K-9) Championship April 9 through 11. The Knights have already won more than 70 trophies.
“I relate chess to wrestling. There’s always a way out. You could be stuck in a move and you can find a way to come out,” Carrerou said.
“You might want to try something and the guy counters, what do you do? Do you go back? No, you try to figure out some other way. There’s always a solution.”
He teaches five chess classes per week to a total of 150 students, of whom 50 make the team. This year though, only 32 of them went to the nationals because of lack of funds forthe program.
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