Port Coquitlam high school considers chess moves

Terry Fox students study their chess moves. The Port Coquitlam high school has added chess classes for Grade 11 and Grade 12 to the curriculum. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Terry Fox students study their chess moves. The Port Coquitlam high school has added chess classes for Grade 11 and Grade 12 to the curriculum.

In between Pre-Calculus and English class, some Terry Fox secondary students are learning about “knight forks” and other chess moves in a new course that is turning them into chess champions.

Started by English teacher Dejan Radic the chess course began as a Grade 11 elective last year and, in September, a higher level Grade 12 version will be added.

Radic, who grew up in what is now Serbia, says chess may be just a game but learning it takes skills that improve student academics, confidence and life skills. Making it part of the regular school curriculum is a smart move, he says, and is putting Fox on the map in another area besides sports, music and drama, for which it’s known.

“It’s a sport of the mind. The more you get into it, it’s a science. And at the highest level, it’s an art,” he said.

Recently, The Tri-City News attended a chess class and it didn’t take long for Radic and his 30 students to get down to business. After half an hour spent learning how to perform a knight fork to attack two opposing pieces simultaneously, the students set up chess boards and started to play.

Don’t think this was a relaxing turn at the chess board. The Fox students quickly got into competition mode, slapping a timer after each move to keep the game on schedule.

“It gets so intense in here,” said Rhodesia Pentz, who beat chess partner Tanner Grist for the first time.


Radic says the course appeals to a variety of students, from jocks to keen academics. But he’s really excited about how beneficial the course has been for students with learning challenges. There is much research touting the benefits of chess in education, and Radic is gratified to see them first-hand.

“It’s quite amazing how chess class bridges the gap,” he said. “There is no handicap.”

Terry Fox chess class

And he hopes other schools will soon follow suit, perhaps even using the curriculum he has created. Radic would like to see the chess course in schools across B.C. as it is in 30 countries in Europe and elsewhere.

Whether the students understand the bigger picture, it’s hard to say.

Many who spoke to The Tri-City News said they took it for an easy mark or to be with friends.

Unwittingly, it appears, they began to notice some side benefits.

“It was my favourite class by far. You learn a lot, I was not expecting that,” said Becky Schwenneker, a Grade 12 student who is now a peer tutor for the course.

Marks are allocated not by the number of tournament wins but by the thought students put into each move. Radic looks over the chess score sheets and asks students to explain their thinking. “I am looking for the thought around the most pertinent move,” he said.

Overall, the class seems to have boosted the school’s winning reputation. Most know about Fox’s prowess on the football field and basketball court but the chess team is also earning a reputation, and most of the winners come from Radic’s chess class.


In February, for example, the team won the regional championships, and some of the students also qualified for the provincials.

That doesn’t surprise Radic, who says he has noticed that several of the students have become very competitive.

Janek Kaznowski and Tristen Trolland, who were on the winning chess team, along with Schwenneker, Adam Pruner and Vassko Ivanov, said the chess course has helped them think more clearly and focus more. Kaznowski said it even improved his grades.

Radic can’t necessarily explain the science around it but he thinks that learning to plan moves and make good decisions on a chess board will surely help students do better in the future.

“We are not just teaching them about the game, we are teaching them to make better decision in life,” Radic said, noting, “Chess has immediate feedback. It gives you life’s greatest skill and that is to look ahead.”



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