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Playing the game of kings

Cinnaminson library chess club learns strategy, critical thinking

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Twins Zak (left) and Ethan Milnes play one of the oldest games in the world as their sister, Emily Milnes, looks on.

Long before the internet and virtual gaming, there was chess.

The largest pieces on the board represent the power brokers of medieval Europe – the king, queen and bishop. The knight can move stealthily, using a buttonhook maneuver to attack. The rook or castle protects everyone, including the pawns.

“Chess has been around for hundreds of years,” said teen volunteer Ben Tiounoff during a recent monthly gathering of the Cinnaminson library chess club. “It helps develop thinking and strategy skills.

“I like to come here and be able to teach others. I guide them and give them instruction if needed,” added Tiounoff, who was busy setting up chess boards in the children’s area meeting room for young people 8 to 13 who wanted to play “the game of kings.”

The first match was between 11-year old twin brothers Zak and Ethan Milnes, students at Cinnaminson Middle School. Encouraging them was their sister, Emily Milnes, who goes to Cinnaminson High School.

“Chess develops critical thinking skills, logic, and teaches youngsters sportsmanship and how to get along with others,” said senior librarian Scott Homan, who started the chess club 20 years ago. “It petered out during COVID-19, but we started it up again this spring and more people come out every time.”

“Chess is still a very popular game,” noted children’s librarian Rebecca Topper, who holds a master’s in library science from Drexel University and a bachelor’s in music from Rowan University. “The teen volunteers urged us to start up the club again and we began monthly sessions this May.”

The next chess club session will be Tuesday, Dec. 19, at 3:30 p.m. and is open to all interested youngsters.

“I love it here. We keep very busy,” said Topper, who added that volunteers help not only with the chess club but also tween and teen activities; art classes; story times; and her favorite, the music and movements sessions for children ages 2 to 5.

“We have so many programs for children and teenagers,” she continued. “I am very proud of the teen volunteers who were very active over the summer. They are very responsible and add a lot to the programs.

“The youngsters sing, dance and learn rhythm skills,” added Topper, who participates but has yet to play her French horn for the children.

Despite activity on a recent afternoon in the library’s children’s area – it encompasses the library’s basement – the chess players had peace and quiet in the meeting room to concentrate on their matches.

According to legend, the game was invented as a battle simulator around 200 BCE by Hán Xin, a Chinese military general and politician who contributed greatly to the founding of the Han dynasty.

The recorded history of chess goes back to a similar game, chaturanga, in 7th-century India, and the rules used today emerged in Europe at the end of the 15th century. Standardization and universal acceptance appeared by the end of the 19th century.

Here in the 21st century, young people are enjoying a game that has been played for two millennia during monthly chess club sessions.

For information about any of the programs offered by the Cinnaminson library, go to https://www.bcls.lib.nj.us/locations/cinnaminson-library or call (856) 829-9340. The branch is part of the Burlington County Library System.

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