Teaching kids smooth moves

PHOTO BY SETH WEBER Tiffin Community YMCA Teen Program Coordinator Ernie Berry (left) plays chess with team members Danny (center) and Neil in his office Thursday. The trophies are from tournaments in which the team participated.

Kids looking to learn about chess need to look no further than Tiffin Community YMCA, where Teen Program Coordinator Ernie Berry is eager to teach students about the game.

The chess team meets Tuesdays and Thursdays after school lets out and Saturday mornings, Berry said. The team went to the Toledo Public Schools chess tournament at the Scott Park Campus of University of Toledo Saturday, where they placed first for competitors in second and third grades. Their next tournament is Saturday at Toledo-Lucas Public Library and Berry said he expects them to do just as well.

“They’ve gotten really good,” Berry said. “It’s not like they’re just moving the pieces. They know the fundamentals of the game.”

The three regular team members, Danny, Neil and Cindy, are Chinese, which has presented a language barrier. Danny knew no English when he started on the chess team several months ago, but quickly picked up the game. Berry said their young ages also allow them to absorb information easily.

“The younger they learn, the better,” he said. “Competitive thinking is very attractive to them and fun.”

Danny’s mother, Zhaoyun Yuan, a Heidelberg University instructor, said she learned about Berry through her host family and wanted to let Danny give it a try.

“I didn’t expect Danny to do so well in such a short time,” she said. “I wanted him to just play chess for fun, but he’s gotten very interested. He tried to teach me chess, but I gave up.”

Danny said he’s stuck with the chess team because he enjoys winning and likes thinking.

When teaching chess basics, Berry said he likes to stick to individual training. Now that team members are more advanced, Berry has several boards set up in his office to play multiple games at once, giving pointers on each game.

Although younger players make up the team currently, Berry encourages anyone interested to stop by his office and play a game.

“Chess is for everybody,” he said. “Heck, if a retired guy comes in, I’ll play him, too.”

Berry’s passion for chess started early, much like the children he’s teaching. He was featured in The (Toledo) Blade in May 1998 in an article headlined “Chess title is taken by blind pupil.”

Berry suffered from optic nerve damage while in the womb so he can make out only light sources. He’s able to play chess due to his memorization of the board and pieces and hearing where players place pieces.

“I can hear better than most people can see,” he said.

If he isn’t sure which piece was placed, he runs his fingers over it to differentiate between a pawn and a bishop.

Berry always is accompanied by his service dog, Blue (aka Blue Berry), a boxer often showered with affection by chess team members.

For more information on the chess team, contact Berry at (419) 447-8711 or eberry@tiffinymca.org.