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Most kids clamor to play the latest, most modern game possible. But a group of Rapid City students are bucking that trend, getting excited about a game that is almost 2,000 years old.

The Rapid City Scholastic Chess Club is teaching students the basic moves and thrilling competition of chess. “I got interested in chess when my son was in kindergarten,” said Aaron Knudson, director of the club.

“One of the elementary schools had a counselor who taught kids how to play and help them develop friendships at the same time.”

The school program branched out to include several area elementary schools, and earned a district-wide chess software grant. “We even coordinated with Pierre and Sioux Falls, trading venues for competition,” Knudson said.

But when the counselor retired in 2014, the program dissolved. “His involvement got me excited to teach kids, but when he left it was hard to keep a way to connect with kids,” Knudson said.

In fall 2015, Knudson founded the Rapid City Scholastic Chess Club. The club, which is open to students in grades K-12, meets every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Rapid City Public Library's Hoyt meeting room on the first floor.

There are around 30 members who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including home school, public and private school students.

Jacquee Vig, of Rapid City, says her six children attend the club and "look forward to it every Saturday. The kids are very respectful of each other; the club provides wonderful social interaction.”

Knudson said the club, which has around 30 members, "is an eclectic group. Two people can both play the same game and all social barriers disappear.”

Through chess, kids can overcome a number of social obstacles such as age, Knudson said. 

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“My son bonded over chess with my uncle Bob before he died,” Knudson said. ”My daughter could walk into any retirement home and play chess with a 90-year-old.”

Technology has enhanced the game, with a number of people playing online. “Students can take lessons from grandmasters, play people from anywhere in the world and review games with powerful chess engines,” he said. “There are now online tournaments where you do not have to travel to play with people, but in my opinion it is still preferable to play over the board.”

Cognitive development has long been associated with chess playing. According to USChess.org, “Chess is an educational tool aiding in the learning of planning, cause and effect relationships, pattern recognition, and research, all key skills for success in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).”

Vig agrees. “My husband, Andrew, and I love that are kids are learning chess. It’s great for their minds to explore strategies as they play, and helps enrich their thinking skills.”

The Vig children see chess as simply fun. “I like the opportunity to be with friends and play games,” Harrison Vig, 14, said.

“I love the community aspect of chess,” Ahna Vig, 15, added.

Knudson hopes the club will grow as more families realize the life lessons that can be drawn from the game. 

“I hope chess teaches kids to think a few moves ahead in life,” he said. “After all, life is a game of tactics and moves, just like chess, isn’t it? We couldn’t hope for more for our kids.”

To become a member or for more information on the club, visit rapidcitychess.com.

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