East Flatbush fifth-grader Daniel Engi first sat at a chess board in first grade.

The Success Academy student chose chess as an elective and found an affinity for the game, “so I’ve started playing chess ever since.”

“There’s a lot of strategy and thinking to it, and that makes it pretty fun,” he told BK Reader.

Daniel Engi. Photo: Provided.

This weekend, Engi had an extra reason to enjoy the game when his team from Success Academy East Flatbush Middle School claimed first place in the 53rd New York State Scholastic Chess Championships.

“It was amazing, I didn’t expect to do that good,” he said of the win, adding he had been practising for months — even in his spare time.

“I think about different strats and what do in a counter play,” he said. And his favorite piece? “The knight is just the best piece for forking, I win most games with that.”

Engi said he mostly played and practised with his friends, and he recommended chess to other young people.

“First of all it’s fun, it gives you something to do and it helps you think about other things,” he said.

“For example I’m pretty good with math now that I’ve been playing chess for three years, cause it helps me think about problem solving.”

Engi’s team was one of 14 that competed in the Elementary Reserve division — including private school teams from The Browning School, Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, and Rye Middle School.

Students at an East Flatbush school took home a top chess prize. Photo: Supplied.

Typically, the tournament is held in Saratoga Springs, but was held online due to the pandemic.

Success Academy East Flatbush Chess Coach Zane Eisen said he was extremely proud of the way the students competed in this year’s New York State Chess Championships.

“They’ve practiced and studied hard all year long, and always bring a sense of joy and pride to the game even while playing remotely.”

He added it was the first time the school had had that kind of success in its teams, and that was a big deal.

“Being part of a team is really something special, you’re not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for friends, and classmates, and teammates,” he said.

The results of the weekend’s tournament are not final until the host of the tournament, Internet Chess Club, finishes its fair play analysis of possible cheating — which typically takes three weeks.  

Success Academy said in a statement that starting in kindergarten, students at the schools receive weekly chess classes as part of the required curriculum, and throughout elementary school students have the opportunity to join after school chess clubs. When they reach third grade, students can join the school’s competitive chess team — which competes locally and nationally — if selected by coaches.

Engi and his team aren’t the only Brooklyn students having success in chess. Last year, Brownsville teen Jessica Hyatt was presented with the Daniel Feinberg Success in Chess Award in a virtual ceremony. The award granted her $40,000 in college scholarship.

Hyatt, who has been playing chess since she was four years old, said it was amazing to get an award for doing something she loved. “I play in my free time,” she said. “When I wake up, during my breaks I play it, during my lunch I play it — maybe 6 to 7 hours per day I play.”

She said she dreams of one day becoming the first African American female chess master.

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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