For Sidwell Friends students across divisions, chess is the gambit.

This year Sidwell Friends School won the 2023 District of Columbia State Athletic Association Chess State Championship, bringing home a new banner and a whole lot of pride for the School. “It was such an impressive result,” says Isaac Miller, the faculty adviser for the Upper School chess team. “And not only that, but it was an entirely student-run effort. They organized themselves into a team, handled all the logistics on their own, and then played some terrific chess.”

Chess is nothing if not strategic, requiring forethought and a strong endgame. Which is why it is so cool that in addition to the Upper Schoolers, the Lower and Middle Schoolers (often recognizable for their spontaneity and whimsy) are darn good at it, too.  

Like a foreign language, learning chess early helps cement the skill in children’s developing brains. The game is also known to improve concentration, problem-solving skills, creative thinking, and memory. Perhaps this is why, when Robynn Nichols ’00, P’ 34, P ’32, put out a call to Lower School families to start a chess club outside of school, more than 60 families responded. 

With the support of Charlie Edelman, the Special Programs After Regular Classes (SPARC) chess teacher for the Lower and Middle Schools, the School’s two youngest divisions have jumped right into the region’s chess scene. Just one month after Nichols started the club, a group of Sidwell Friends students attended the three-day, K–12 National Championship in National Harbor. Then they kept going to one tournament after another, racking up awards.

One tournament was particularly special: the 1st Annual Kenneth Clayton Memorial Chess Championship at Dunbar High School in DC. Playing chess there was especially meaningful for Nichols and her children, Ruby ’34 and Maxwell ’32, as it was held in honor of Nichols’s uncle, Kenneth Clayton, one of the nation’s all-time great chess masters and just the fourth African American to earn the title of National Master. Now, 60 years after Clayton won the 1963 U.S. Amateur Championship, Ruby and Maxwell successfully competed at their trailblazing great-uncle’s namesake tournament. 

So, if the Game of Kings is as confusing to you as the twisty narratives of the Game of Thrones, don’t worry about it. The kids have it covered.

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