Innovative program teaches kids life lessons using a chess board

▶ Watch Video: Man teaches kids life lessons through chess

Compton, California — Chess is a game of make-believe kings and queens, pawns and rooks. So what does that have to do with real life? Turns out, quite a bit.

For 12-year-old Andre, chess is more than just a game.

“I use a lot of stuff that I learned on the chess board in real life, like, think before you move, think before I act out,” he told CBS News.

He’s just one of thousands of students from some of Los Angeles’ toughest neighborhoods learning to play.

“I learned to play chess at age 13,” Andre told CBS News. “It was a pivotal, pivotal moment in my life.”

Damen Fletcher grew up in Compton. After leaving the city to attend college, he came home to find his childhood friends struggling.

“Some of them had fallen into prison. Gang life and drugs … and I just wondered, ‘Why did I have such a different outcome?’ And it was chess,” he said.

compton-train-of-thought-chess-collage.jpg
Students in Compton are learning chess to help master the game of life. (Courtesy Train of Thought)

He started Train of Thought to help kids of all ages find their inner king or queen.

“Every game of chess is 75 to 100 moves, and every single move that your opponent makes presents a new problem for you to solve,” he said. “And so kids are just having fun. They don’t realize that they’re solving problems.”

So, how do you teach a 5-year-old how to play chess?

“We actually have a really cool story that we use to help kids that age set up a chess board for the first time,” Fletcher said. “It goes: the king and the queen got married by the bishops. They rode on horses to their castle and had eight children.”

“My main thing in class is: be a scholar. So being a scholar to me is being prepared, productive and never giving up,” Andre said.

Mastering the game of life early.

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