Milwaukee area nonprofit teaching kids how to play chess

PEWAUKEE, Erase. — Rana Kondapalli remembers when he got his first chess board when he was eight-years-old.

“I clearly had no idea what I was doing. It was just some present my mom gave me for Christmas,” Kondapalli said. “I was like, ‘Let’s stay away from this. Let me learn a few things about this first, and then I’ll do it.’”

Those first two years, he said, were tough — at first.

“Playing was really tough for me,” Kondapalli said. “I didn’t know basic checkmates, basic moves even. I was really bad.”

But now at ten-years-old, he’s in the intermediate level class of chess players, learning to play the game through the local nonprofit, Power of Pawns.

It’s a group started by Krish Sharma. He’s a junior at Brookfield Academy, and a co-captain of the school’s chess club.

The non-profit was an idea he had during the pandemic.

“I saw there was a decline in chess tournaments,” Sharma noted. “There was a decline in the regular chess clubs that used to exist when I was younger. A lot of schools have dropped their chess clubs, and there is a lack of chess in our community.”

He wanted to change that, so, he launched the non-profit.

First, he taught kids how to play chess online through zoom classes. Now, he’s teaching kids in three sessions every Sunday at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin.

Each session is an hour long. Two sessions are for beginners, and one session is for intermediate level players.

They had to cap each hour at 20 students because of the high interest.

“That’s one of the reasons why we started,” Sharma said. “We knew there was an interest, we just knew people didn’t have the resources, and we really wanted to provide that.”

His non-profit isn’t just teaching the next generation of chess players in Wisconsin. Sharma has a partner teaching kids chess in underprivileged areas of Sacramento, California.

They provide the chess boards at the classes, and even help families who don’t have them already get one of their own.

For those who are unsure about the game, Sharma said the skills learned from chess go much further than the board.

“It helped me so much,” Sharma said. “Now I’m able to think back and say, ‘Wow. My thinking skills, my critical thinking skills are so much higher because I played chess at such a young age.’”

His students agree.

“Chess is fun, yes! If you’re really bad at it, don’t worry,” Kondapalli said. “Just come here, and it’s actually really good for you.”

And while he has two more years leading the Brookfield Academy Chess Team, Sharma is using his chess skills to teach a new generation about the game he loves.

To learn more about Power of Pawns, click here.

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