Introducing FIDE Master Sunil Weeramantry

The National Scholastic Chess Foundation’s founder and executive director is FIDE Master Sunil Weeramantry, a nationally acclaimed instructor who has over 40 years’ experience teaching and developing award-winning programs.

Sunil is a pioneer in the field of curricular chess instruction. Starting in 1979, he developed a comprehensive chess program at Manhattan’s Hunter College Campus Schools, a leading laboratory school for talented and gifted students. This program evolved to the point where chess is now a required subject for all students in kindergarten through fourth grade. During the time that pre-K classes were offered at Hunter, Sunil taught chess to those students as well. Over a ten year period, over 500 four-year-olds were introduced to chess through weekly instruction. From the very beginning, the Hunter administration has believed that chess is an effective vehicle to develop critical thinking skills in younger students. Today, Sunil continues to direct the Hunter chess program. To mark the program’s 40th anniversary, Sunil was recognized with proclamations from New York State Senator Elizabeth Krueger and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Other School-based Programs

A staunch advocate of the value of chess in education, Sunil has also worked closely with many other schools.

In 1984, Sunil worked with the school district in his hometown of White Plains, New York. Bonnie Ackerman, Talented & Gifted program coordinator, thought that the decision-making process in chess most closely aligned with the philosophy and logic track, rather than the more commonly-accepted association with math. With a first-year grant from the American Chess Foundation and matching funds from the District, chess was offered in the gifted program curriculum in all elementary schools. The District continued to fund the program for the next 15 years. The NSCF also began offering lunch-time chess clubs which continue up to the present.

Sunil designed a pilot program for Greenwich Academy, an elite all-girls school in Greenwich, CT, which established chess as a curricular subject in grades 1-3. Sunil took on this challenge to encourage more girls to play chess. Over many years, the “GA Gators” enjoyed competitive success at a national level. In championing the chess program at GA, former Lower School head Jeanette Tyndall noted that in situations where there are many possible right answers, even the brightest students may not be willing to respond for fear of being wrong. This can be mitigated by teaching chess, because in chess students learn there is regularly more than one correct answer. With chess at GA, the goal is to inspire excellence rather than perfection.

Another exciting collaboration has been with the Speyer School, a private school in Manhattan designed to meet the needs of advanced learners through an accelerated and enriched curriculum. School co-founders Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, Malena Belafonte and Jennifer Selendy invited Sunil to create the chess program. Speyer provides curricular chess instruction twice a week to all students, kindergarten through fourth grade. Students in grades 5 through 8 can participate in a chess elective that meets three times in each six-day cycle. Sunil directed and taught the program for 10 years before recruiting a new chess program director to continue the legacy.

Having gotten chess into districts through talented and gifted programs, Sunil has been able to demonstrate that the benefits of a chess education can extend to all students. As one example, Greenburgh Central School District initially introduced chess in the gifted program but soon expanded so that every K through 2nd grade student receives chess instruction. Before-school, lunchtime and after-school enrichment programs reach the older grades.

Another example of reaching all students comes from New Rochelle. From 1995 through 2015, chess instructors from the NSCF taught a 24 week-program to every 2nd and 3rd grade class in five of the city’s elementary schools. Since then, the NSCF has continued to provide chess as an enrichment activity in each of these schools.

For his work bringing chess into the classroom, in 2005 Sunil was named “Chess Educator of the Year” by the University of Texas at Dallas.

US Chess Federation

Sunil served as the first Chairman of the US Chess Federation’s Committee on Chess in Education from 1990 to 2000, and produced Chess in Education workshops across the country. These events featured such distinguished speakers as noted Hungarian psychologist Dr. Laszlo Polgar, and Dr. Robert Ferguson, who conducted the first federally-funded study on the benefits of chess in the United States. In 1998, Sunil coordinated a Symposium on Chess in Education in the United States Senate with Senator Carl Levin as the keynote speaker.

An appointed member of the USCF Scholastic Committee from 1986 to the present, Sunil was elected co-chair of the Scholastic Council for multiple two-year terms between 2012 and 2020. For his work in scholastic chess, he received the Meritorious Service Award in 1986 and 2004, and the Scholastic Service Award in 1998. In 2020, Sunil received the USCF’s Distinguished Service Award.

Community-based Programs

In the 1990s, the NSCF program implemented under Sunil’s direction at Jr. High School 45 in the Bronx ran for seven years and is still regarded as a shining example of total community involvement. Curricular chess classes, active parent involvement, support from local businesses, early morning chess games with police officers, visits by the chess team to homes for the elderly, all these were key ingredients in shaping character. Not only did this team win several awards, the majority of its members went on to attend college.

Since 2014, the NSCF’s community-based model has been significantly expanded upon in a partnership with the City of Sunrise, Florida as well as with the Broward Education Foundation. Demystifying Chess Workshops have trained over 500 teachers, police officers and sheriff’s deputies, and other professionals working with children to open over 150 school and community chess clubs across the county.

With major grant funding from the City of Sunrise, chess instruction is provided free-of-charge to children, families, veterans, and other members of the community at local libraries, parks & recreation centers, in city-run summer camps, and at weekly open play events that serve both children and adults. The “chess tent” is a popular attraction at community concerts and festivals. Free scholastic chess tournaments, sponsored by the City of Sunrise Police Department and the Broward Sheriff’s Advisory Council, are open to aspiring scholastic chess players. In September 2019, Sunil was presented with the Key to the City by Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan in recognition of his, and the NSCF’s role in using chess to develop cross-cultural, cross-generational friendships throughout the community.

Chess Player, Coach & Author

A two-time New York State chess champion (1975 and 2001), Sunil played his first tournament in 1958. He continues to compete both nationally and internationally to this day. He considers his greatest achievement taking 4th place on Board 1 playing for Sri Lanka at the 23rd World Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1978.

Sunil is also one of the most successful chess coaches in the United States. He has coached over 200 individual and team champions in national and international youth competitions. National team champions he has coached include Greenwich Country Day School, Hastings-on-Hudson, Hunter, Horace Mann, Solomon Schechter, Speyer, and White Plains. The many titles won by Hunter include three consecutive National High School team titles from 2010 to 2012. Another special event, the 2000 World Schools Chess Championship was won by the Hunter Junior High team.

Sunil has coached Team USA at the World Youth Chess Championships on several occasions. Many of his students have medaled at this event, among them John Viloria, who won two consecutive gold medals (1987 and 1988), Susan Urminska, Yvonne Krawiec, and Jessica Ambats (two golds and a silver in 1987), and Sunil’s stepson Hikaru Nakamura, who won a silver medal in 2001. Hikaru went on to become the youngest American Grandmaster (2003), a five-time U.S. Chess Champion, and one of the world’s elite players.

Sunil is the author, with Ed Eusebi, of the best-selling chess book, Best Lessons of a Chess Coach. First published in 1993, a new Extended Edition from Mongoose Press was released September 1, 2020. He is also co-author of Great Moves: Learning Chess Through History, a blended learning textbook that helps students improve at chess while being exposed to the game’s cultural development. The book was released in November 2017 by Mongoose Press.