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'Checkmate': Empowering Indy's youth through the game of chess

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Posted at 5:07 PM, Oct 15, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS — Inside Cleo’s Bodega on the city's near northwest side sits Yuri Smith playing a game he’s played since he was eight years old.

“To me, it’s more than a simple game. It is life,” said Smith, co-founder of Inner-City Chess Club.

Growing up in the Riverside neighborhood, Smith said his uncle taught him chess and it distracted him from the path he so often witnesses his peers go down.

"Chess saved my life and provided the skills and the critical thinking assets to help me make informed decisions," Smith said.

These are skills he's hoping to instill in today's youth.

"Chess taught us how to think before we make a decision," he said. "I actually believe if people thought things through before they made a decision, we would have fewer young people making the types of decisions and then not being able to live with the repercussions of those decisions."

Smith, along with Indy's Inner-City Chess Club, Aspire House, Northwest CRDC, and others are hosting an eight-week series of free chess sessions every Sunday at Frank Young Park, calling it "Chess in the Park."

“I believe if we catch them young, we won’t have all the adult experience problems,” Smith said. “And so, of course, I want to catch them as young as we possibly can just so that the same things that worked for me and my friends that played chess can be instilled in other young people.”

Just like the kids he hopes to impact, Smith and his friends also attended Indianapolis Public Schools growing up and went on to achieve amazing things; proving chess doesn’t just teach you how to move pieces around a chessboard, but also, feeling empowered to continue learning.

The eight-week series is open to the public and kicked off on Sept. 26. It will continue on Sundays until Oct. 17 at Frank Young Park from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., until it gets too cold and they transition indoors to Cleo's Bodega from Oct. 24 to Nov. 14.