CHELSEA — At P.S. 33 Chelsea Prep, chess is a way of life.
Students play the game in the hallways and after school. Each classroom has several chess sets and students get a few hours of instruction each week.
Together with coaches from Chess NYC, the school has used the game to teach kids a variety of life skills, including critical thinking and conflict resolution.
In May, the school's team took ninth place in the United States Chess Federation's Elementary Nationals K-3 Tournament in Dallas. Staff said the game even helped the school get an "A" ranking in the most recent Department of Education Progress Report.
"When I took over this school in 2004, I felt I needed children to visualize before making moves academically," said Linore Lindy, the elementary school's principal, who grew up as a fan of chess prodigy Bobby Fisher.
"A nice way of doing that would be through chess."
The chess program teaches kids to weigh consequences before reacting and also how to win or lose graciously, Lindy said.
"It teaches them to imagine 'what if?'" she said.
Students begin chess instruction in kindergarten, where they learn about the pieces and basic rules of the game. The program was brought to the school by Chess NYC, a group devoted to sharing a love of chess in the city's schools.
"A successful educator gives them a love and pursuit of the game," Chess NYC coach Russ Makofsky said .
Students who want more than just classroom instruction can play at lunch or for a few hours in the after-school program. Each grade has an annual chess tournament at the end of the school year.
"The children love playing," Lindy said. "And we aim to provide a 'can play' environment."
Students at the school got a celebrity moment when Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen — the No. 1 ranked player in the world — came to visit and play with them earlier this year.
May's championship was a first for the school — and also for many of the 10 students who traveled to Texas to play. Many had never been that far from home.
Chess NYC helped organize flights and hotels so that all of the qualifying children could compete.
"When we got there, no one had heard of us and there were a bunch of fancy private schools," Makofsky said. "We were the real underdogs and the buzz of the tournament — that tournament was one of the most rewarding parts of my life."
The school's K-3 team, made up of third-graders Sumit Dhar, Adam Sherer, Leonardo Liu and Ethan Lin, took home the ninth-place trophy, beating dozens of other schools. The trophy now sits at P.S. 33's main entrance.
"We've really built a strong community, a proud community at Chelsea Prep," Lindy said. "They're strategic thinkers for life."