Reuben O’Neill, the NSCF 2014-15 Grand Prix Middle School Champion, is a proud example of how chess can help a child learn to overcome obstacles beyond the chess board.

Reuben was first introduced to chess while attending his kindergarten and first grade years at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester and really liked the game. His father, Robert says Reuben was excelling at math even at an early age but was having trouble with reading. Reuben was identified as having dyslexia which was inhibiting his overall academic progress so his family enrolled him at Windward, a school in White Plains that specializes in teaching children with language-based learning difficulties.

Reuben no longer had a formal chess class so he started taking group lessons in the area, including at the NSCF’s Saturday Chess Club in Scarsdale. In second grade, he started playing in tournaments. “Since I enjoyed it, I’ve kept at it,” Reuben said. “When I was younger, chess helped me become more patient.… Later it helped me learn to focus on a subject even if it’s difficult and to be more determined to get better grades. In chess, if you’re in a tough situation, you’re looking to turn the tide for yourself, so you learn from that.”

To date, Reuben still has not had private coaching. “I’d like to,” he said, “But lately I’ve been pretty busy. Mostly I’d like to play in more tournaments because then I see how other people play, and I can improve my chess. If I see something interesting, I learn from it. If I fall for a trap, I don’t usually fall for it again.”

Reuben is also very involved in Boy Scouts and said the first badge he earned was the Chess Merit badge.

NSCF Executive Director Sunil Weeramantry said he remembered Reuben as a little boy in his kindergarten and first grade classes and was pleased to know he had continued with chess and was doing so well. In presentations to school systems and in the NSCF teacher workshops, Sunil regularly points out that chess, because it is a unique language, can help identify intelligences even when a child is dealing with a learning disability like dyslexia. It can even be a part of an overall learning strategy that equips the student for “mainstream” success.

Reuben is one example of such success. Next year he will leave Windward to start high school. We hope the new school already has a chess club; if not, perhaps Reuben will take the lead in organizing one!