SIOUX CITY | Two dozen students spread throughout a Perry Creek Elementary School room Thursday, eyes down, focused on a board with 64 squares and a variety of pawns, rooks, bishops, the powerful queen and of course the coveted king.
They took a break to listen to Chess Club founder Jason Gann, gesturing at a few scenarios projected onto a white board.
"Is there any place for this king to go, and not be in check?" Gann asked.
Third-grader Earl Phetteplace was among those eagerly offering an option, which he showed with a marker on the board after leaving his spot.
"Ah, ha. I like Earl's move," Gann responded.
A bit later, Gann worked through a back-rank checkmate scenario on the board: "Everybody see it? Anybody not see it?"
He added, "You can go from winning the game to losing the game in one play, so you have to be careful on the sequence."
Since October, Gann and Perry Creek students in third through fifth grades have gathered early on Thursdays for 45 minutes before the start of school to take part in Chess Club. Gann thought there could be some good lessons from the methodical and thoughtful approach to playing chess, so he pitched school officials on starting the club.
The school Parent Teacher Association lined up the 40 chess boards and pieces, and pupil numbers have held strong most Thursdays. A big core of pupils return every week, while some newcomers like Will Bertrand peppered in their participation in the spring semester.
"I wouldn't say I am the best, but I think I am OK...It is fun to play logic-thinking games like this," said Bertrand, a fourth-grader.
Some people like an interloping reporter know the basic moves each piece can make, but to be good at chess it pays to be able to think a move or more ahead. Fourth-grader Marcella Palmer said she plots at least one move ahead, and she's gained skill from being in the club, after hearing about it from Perry Creek Talented and Gifted Teacher Rochelle Greig.
"I have improved from when I started. I have improved in making checkmates," Palmer said.
Several students finished two or three games over the 35 minutes they played beyond the 10 minutes of instruction Gann provided Thursday.
The club participants are a mixture of TAG students and others. Greig said such a club would be a boon at other district schools, given the "logical reasoning and social skills." She said pulling that off likely requires more volunteers at schools.
Gann, an attorney in his day job, plays at home with daughters, Cheryl and Claire Gann. He is pleased their fellow Perry Creek students have embraced chess.
"It teaches them to think a move ahead. It teaches kids competition, how to win, how to be a good sport," Gann said.
"I know they play a lot of video games, and it is another format to play in."
Gann said he prepared a series of lessons to fill the school year through May.
"We finished it by Thanksgiving. Their understanding is so much faster than I thought it would be. They have met and exceeded my expectations already," Gann said.
Phetteplace extolled the benefits of chess.
"I love chess, because it makes me think and I love thinking and I love games...I love to think about what I am going to do," Phetteplace said.
At home, Phetteplace also likes the board game Aggravation, and now he has a chess game too in his family of four.
"I asked for it for Christmas. I got one, and my sister broke the board, so I am kind of mad at her," he said.