by Jody Kerzman | Submitted Photos
There are 16 pieces in a chess set: one king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights, and eight pawns. No one piece is more important than another; in order to win, it’s crucial to use the pieces together.
That is a philosophy Todd Wolf uses not only when playing chess, but in life in general. And speaking of life, chess is pretty much life for Todd Wolf. He’s been the president of the North Dakota Chess Association since 2013 and was recently inducted into the North Dakota Chess Hall of Fame.
“I enjoy the mental challenge of trying to outthink someone,” says Todd.
Todd taught his children—three daughters and one son—how to play chess. His son, Stuart, became the first four time North Dakota state high school chess champion. But Todd says it’s not all about winning. Chess, afterall, is a game of strategy and critical thinking. Those are skills Todd says take time to develop.
“In some ways, chess is like sports,” he explains. “There are fundamentals involved. If you’re learning the fundamentals and taking the time to look at what’s going on, it will help you settle down, focus, and learn how to think. “
He says patience is perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from chess. In today’s society of “instant gratification,” Todd says it’s a skill many people—young and old—don’t have. Todd has taught hundreds of young people the fundamentals of chess.
“I run tournaments all year-round and have kids who are good and are knowledgeable about chess, but the patience isn’t there.”
For the past five summers, Todd has held chess camps in Bismarck and Minot. He teaches kids as young as four and even some parents. For five days, they spend three hours a day learning the fundamentals of the game. Each chess camp ends with a tournament and a ranking.
“All our chess camp tournaments are rated so everyone who participates gets a performance rating. Once you have a rating and play additional tourneys, your rating can go up or down, depending on how you do. It’s a good opportunity to see where your level is.”
Chess isn’t just a summer camp activity for Todd though. He finds a way to incorporate the game into most everything he does. For the past several years, he worked as a paraprofessional at Bismarck’s Liberty Elementary school.
“My first year there I would see kids in the lunchroom before school, looking for something to do. I asked the principal if I could bring a chess set and work with the kids who were interested. That first day I brought just one chess set, and I asked a student who was known to be sort of a bully to play. A few kids were gathered around watching us. From that day on, my relationship with that student was so much better, and his behavior was so much better. He had something positive in his day.”
That one chess set quickly turned into three, and then five. Students would flock to the lunchroom for a game of chess before the school day started. Todd saw changes in the students. Behavior was better. Kids who had a hard time focusing and sitting still were suddenly able to do both. The culture of the school was improving. Todd once again went to his principal with an idea.
“I worked mostly with one student so I asked if when he was gone, could I go into the classrooms and give introductory classes on chess,” he recalls. “I was in every classroom, kindergarten through fifth grade, teaching an introductory chess lesson. Kids were always asking if I could come back for another class. And teachers commented on how different their classes were. Even some kids who were challenged for attention were now focused. It’s fun to see a change in the kids.”
A change that Todd considers a win. Or, to put it in chess terms, checkmate.