Empowering Communities

Teaching the Game of Life through Chess

June 15, 2017

Jose Garza, a mechanical engineer and Illinois Institute of Technology graduate, has been playing chess since he was 11. His love of the game began when he stumbled upon a group of children playing chess in his Chicago neighborhood Little Village.

Isabella Garza playing chess

Isabella Garza at the Chicago Public Schools’ Chess Championships in March 2017.

As he grew and matured into a teenager, he lost his youthful enthusiasm and stopped playing the game. Little did he know, down the road he would rediscover his favorite childhood hobby.

When his oldest son, Luke, was interested in enrolling in a chess class in an area middle school, Jose’s passion returned like an old friend. He decided to found the Matthew Gallistel Language Academy Chess Team at his son’s school in 2010. Today, the team consists of 25 participants, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade.

When he is not at ComEd working as a senior design work planner for the Chicago region, where he is focused on continuing to improve the grid that is producing record power reliability in northern Illinois, Jose is dedicating his time by teaching strategies and the game of chess to his team of students.

“I have a passion for teaching. I always needed help learning things as a kid; it’s my way of giving back,” says Jose.

Along with his students dominating the chess board, they also display exceptional skills in other areas. Jose is not surprised that many of his chess students play music and possess strong math skills.

“Students learn to sit still in front of a chess board and to control their minds by focusing on solving problems on the board,” he says. “This discipline helps them to succeed in their school work and in life.  Chess is a great equalizer. It shows the potential of every child, regardless of their background, that they can succeed.”

Jose believes chess sharpens student’s minds, but also improves their attitudes and outlook on life.

“I promote chess to children because it can provide a sense of accomplishment in their lives,” Jose says. “When children get good at chess, they get confident and feel empowered to control a part of their lives and future.”

As well getting students involved in chess, Jose has drawn his whole family to the game. All of Jose’s four children play chess as well as his wife, Anna. He and his family are members of the United States Chess Federation. The chess team plays monthly tournaments with the Youth Chess Federation of Chicago.

The team has competed on the local and national level. The K-6 team recently won second place in the Novice Section at the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago with only three players instead of the traditional four. In April, the team traveled to Indianapolis, Ind., for the National Junior High School Chess Championship where the K-8 team won eighth place.

These tournaments provide more than just competitive chess matches; they offer scholarship programs for winners. Many colleges are interested in students who study and play chess. Jose believes chess can lead students to a brighter future because of the skills and opportunities that stem from this game

“Chess gives them the ability to go anywhere in the world,” he says. “It’s a gateway to a better life, because the skills required to be a good chess player – being thoughtful, calculating and aggressive – are all useful skills for a successful future.”

The Gallistel Chess Team will travel next to the 2018 Nationals (K-12) Chess Championship in Columbus, Ohio, in April. For more information about the Gallistel Chess Team, please contact Jose Garza at jog@flash.net.