New Orleans is embracing something unexpected, chess.
On October 25, the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center hosted the first annual New Orleans Chess Fest.
The event was intended to boost enthusiasm for chess for everyone in New Orleans but especially students.
Michael Tisserand, organizer of Chess Fest, says he has seen the rewards of playing chess and wanted to give that opportunity to people in New Orleans.
“I find it incredibly rewarding to have some kid come down and the teacher say ‘oh, this kid’s having a bad day. There’s no way he’s going to be able to play chess and in fifteen minutes he’s absolutely lost in the game, and enjoying it, and competitive, and has good spirits. I want to try and see more kids have that chance in New Orleans and a festival seemed like the right way to start,” he said.
The activities at Chess Fest included Harry Potter style “living chess”, free lessons, a “blindfold chess” demonstration, and two “simuls,” where a chess expert played dozens of opponents at once.
Michael Imbornonoe and his 7 year old son Will say they came to Chess Fest specifically to play in the tournaments.
Mike Klein, content manager for chess.com and chesskid.com and the headliner for Chess Fest, chose to come to the festival because he believes important lessons can be learned from playing the game.
“In a chess game you can’t hide. If you don’t know something, you’re probably going to lose and that child has to learn how to win gracefully and also how to take his losses well too. So I like playing up the personal responsibility angle of the game,” Klein said.
Tisserand has also seen the benefits of playing chess. He specifically cites one conversation with a chess student.
“She said, ‘Chess is teaching me that my decisions matter.’ And that is one thing that I think chess teaches kids. They have to decide every move. You know, what kind of game they’re gonna play and then they’re gonna feel the results right away. That’s one reason why chess is, it requires a lot of inner toughness to play. It’s very hard to lose sometimes, especially those two hour, three hour games. So then you’re gonna lose after that it’s very tough. So it teaches perseverance also,” he said.
Overall, Tisserand had a very specific goal with Chess Fest.
Tisserand said, “My goal is for parents to show up here and leave here saying ‘how come my school doesn’t have a chess program? What can I do to help start a chess program at my school?”