WESTVILLE – Zach Head pauses for a moment before making a precision move.
Eight-year-old Head was deep in thought while playing a game of chess with Nova Scotia chess master Alvah Mayo.
Although being taught at four years old to play the game, Head played a mere handful of times prior to taking on the champion.
Mayo was at the Westville Library for a learn to play chess session as part of Pictou- Antigonish Regional Library’s STREAM program. He is one of five chess masters in the province.
For those learning the game, Mayo said, “The king is priceless.”
In chess, the king can never actually be captured, but can be attacked and when there are no more moves to save the king, the game is lost, checkmate.
According to Mayo, checkmate comes from the Persian term for the king is dead, ‘shah mat’.
Each chess player has 16 game pieces: eight pawns and a king, queen, two rooks, two bishops and two knights and the white team always starts.
Mayo has been playing chess for more than 30 years, since the age of seven.
“My older brother taught me to play; it was a really awesome game,” he explains. “It was fun and anything your older brother does is cool.”
He began competing in chess tournaments as a child and recalls losing almost every one of them.
“They say you learn from your losses so I figured I must be learning a lot back then.”
Mayo says winning isn’t everything; you learn best from playing and from stronger players. “There was one fella who improved my game, he was from the Annapolis Valley.”
Now, Mayo continues to compete in tournaments with five to six occurring in Nova Scotia each year as well as the Nova Scotia Championships.
“Right now the Nova Scotia champion is 18 years old. He’s a very nice guy.”
Chess has taken Mayo from coast to coast taking part in the Canadian Championships. In 2001, he came in seventh in Sackville, N.B. in an open tournament.”
But Mayo adds, it’s much easier for the younger generation to get involved in the game with school clubs and books from local libraries.
“It’s a real advantage now-a-days.”
And children can compete as well.
He says most tournaments are open and anyone can walk in off the street to play as long as they know the rules of the game, which Mayo says takes maybe 20 minutes to learn.
“Expect to lose, because you are walking in with little experience and competing against those with a lot of experience, but that’s how you learn.”
Mayo has some advice: “Play as often as you can. And play for fun. Make sure to get your pieces out. It’s a lot harder to win a game with two pieces than eight.”
Mayo says it’s important for children to learn to play chess because there are a lot of benefits.
“It can improve children’s math skills by 15 per cent by just playing the game and (it) improves problem solving skills as well as long range planning. Anything that teaches how to think, calculate all while having fun is an excellent activity.”
Mayo will be holding another learn to play chess session Tuesday, Aug. 16 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Westville Library.
Zach Head plays a game of chess at the Westville library against Nova Scotia chess master Alvah Mayo. (Harvie photo)