KANKAKEE — David Love scanned the chessboards, dissecting every move his peers made as he led the Lincoln Cultural Center chess club’s after-school gathering Thursday.
“That was a great move,” he told one peer. “That sets you up the rest of the game.”
Then, he walked to another table. Within a few seconds, he sat down and jumped into teaching mode.
“Let’s put you in a better position,” he said while reconfiguring the board and explaining to his friend how he would play the rest of the game.
That back-and-forth understanding of chess helped Love last weekend as he took second place at the Greater Chicago K-12 Championships sponsored by the Renaissance Knights Foundation.
Love, an eighth-grader at Lincoln Cultural Center, made it to the championship round in a division consisting of more than 50 kids. The tournament, which featured hundreds of chessboards at McCormick Place, had 800 competitors for the daylong tournament.
“A lot of people look at chess and think of it as a boring game, but there is a lot more to it,” Love said. “I barely knew about the competitive scene when I first started. To discover that scene and how much more there is to chess, has been incredible. It’s not a boring game. My heart pounds during a tournament.”
Love’s passion for chess started at a young age. He was 4 years old when taught himself how to play the game online.
“He always wanted to play games that I thought were too advanced for his age,” said Rhonda Love, David’s mother. “We were on vacation once, and he finally got me to play Monopoly with him. He was very young. He understood the game and could beat all of us.”
It also led to many trips up north. After LCC’s chess club dissolved, the Love family kept trying to find new clubs. They eventually found a high school group that met for three hours every Friday and Saturday at a Panera Bread eatery in Tinley Park.
At first, the high schoolers were hesitant to add a fifth-grader to the group. But Love kept showing up. He and his mother made the trip up to Tinley Park for two and a half years.
“He eventually became friends with all of them,” Rhonda recalled. “Now, all of them are in college.”
After leaving that group, Love wanted to ramp up the local chess scene. This year, he revived the LCC chess club, serving as the grandmaster every Thursday after school.
He starts each meeting with a quick lesson before he and 11 peers start playing. His mother, who does not know how to play chess, is the club supervisor.
“Watching him teach was a revelation because I really did not understand the depth of his knowledge or his skill,” Rhonda said. “He is very professional in running the whole thing.”
“It’s interesting seeing my friends go through the steps I went through while learning,” Love added. “I try to convey what worked for me as I was learning in the best way possible. It’s fun.”
Chess has had an impact on Love’s professional desires. He aspires to follow his mother’s footsteps to become a lawyer. Every month, he attends the local teen court to learn the law process. Becoming a scientist also is on the table.
“Chess helps because lawyers have to think strategically in court in how they are going to make their argument to the jury,” Love said. “Scientists have to use logic and make connections with evidence, too.”
Now, with a trophy half his height from the Chicago tournament, Love is preparing for the Illinois Elementary School Association’s state tournament, which will take place in three weeks at the Peoria Civic Center.
Love has taken third place at the tournament twice. But the success he had in Chicago has him thinking bigger this year.
“It would be great to win it all,” he said, pausing to smile. “It’s all about getting into your opponent’s head and using strategy to get the upper hand on them. We will see how it goes.”