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April 7, 2012 at 4:40 PM

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Meridian School Chess Tournament


TOP: Finnegan Fant, 7, left, of Seattle looks at his opponent Mariah Davis, 6, right, of Shoreline during a timed match at The Meridian School Chess Tournament, Saturday April 7, 2012 in Seattle. Davis puts her hand out to shake after correctly calling a draw due to timed rules. SECOND FROM TOP: Mariah taps on Finnegan's head as Finnegan makes a move after she had called a draw. THIRD FROM TOP: Finnegan looks at Mariah after Mariah calls a draw during the timed match. BOTTOM: Finnegan shakes hands with Mariah after the timed match ends in a draw. Finnegan was ahead in captured pieces and had not noticed that time had run out until Mariah pointed it out.

Long the domain of brainiacs, chess is becoming increasingly popular among a diverse array of children, especially as parents and community organizations see the game as a way to help kids develop critical thinking skills, the ability to focus and social grace. In short, it makes the brain "work better," said Elena Donaldson, a three-time U.S. Champion and co-founder of the popular local Chess Academy who ran Saturday's tournament.

At the diverse Leschi Elementary, where Finnegan attends, chess club leaders use the game "as a vehicle for teaching learning skills" to children who historically struggle, coach Dewayne Dantzler said.

Chess is appealing to children of all backgrounds because of its egalitarian nature, Seattle Chess Club Vice President David Kelly said. "You can have an 80-year-old sitting across from an 8-year-old on the board and they are equals. Likewise you can have a millionaire sitting across from a homeless man," Kelly said. "It's all equalized across the 64 squares."

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