Checkmate Violence draws area participants


David Blocker eagerly awaits his courses in wildlife management and conservation at Delaware Valley College. If chess were a major, the 18-year-old would be better suited to stand before students than to sit among them. The recent graduate of The Academy at Palumbo, 1100 Catharine St., displayed his teeming talent at July 27’s Checkmate Violence Chess in the Summer event at Center City’s Shops at Liberty Place. 

Over two hours, Blocker and 42 other students matched their minds against one another and the site’s lunch crowd. Members of the seven-year-old Philadelphia Youth Chess Challenge, the board warriors came as guests of the After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP).

“We hold more than 30 events per year,” Maria Walker, ASAP’s executive director, said as the first hour concluded.

Most involve chess, as the Chess Challenge serves as ASAP’s chief initiative with 313 clubs and 3,700 participants. Formal tournaments comprise most of the gatherings, so the afternoon affair bred a less competitive environment. 

“We wanted to offer the children an informal chance to pursue their love of the game,” Walker, of Second and Morris streets, said.

Geography also factored into maximizing the moments. Flash mobs have caused havoc in Center City numerous times, so, in addition to giving the youngsters a social opportunity, the day offered the public chances to reduce perceptions of how constructively Philadelphia’s public and charter school learners use their time outside of their institutions’ walls.

“Our students are good kids who want to do the right thing and who want to be involved in positive activities,” Walker said.

Her nonprofit began in 2002 to combat violence and idleness. Its website estimates 45,000 children citywide spend at least 20 hours alone after school each week. It also surmises that a dearth of post-school pursuits could contribute to obesity. Though chess is the champion, ASAP offers dance, debate, drama, Scrabble and yoga to another 203 clubs and 2,700 students.

Public and charter schools give ASAP more than half of its clubs. Play occurs in those facilities, independent and parochial schools, community and recreation centers, homeless shelters and libraries. Teachers run a majority of the clubs and encourage members to feel confident about playing as often as possible. More than 200 participants followed their instructors’ advice by competing in February’s Fourth Annual PECO-ASAP Checkmate Violence 24-Hour Chess Marathon at Temple University. 

“The marathon is our biggest way for the students to compete against the public, but this is a great one, too, albeit a little less intense,” Walker said with a laugh.

No child seemed shy about moving pieces in hopes of securing checkmates. Blocker certainly had the least cause to be tentative. The tutelage for the resident of 11th and Christian streets began at age 2 through his father Butch, an assistant coach for Palumbo’s five-year-old team.

The Hawthorne unit enjoyed a fantastic year. It won the High School South Division, finished as the runner-up at March’s league championships at Citizens Bank Park, 1 Citizens Bank Way, and claimed third in the team awards category as a part of the high school non-rated section at May’s Eighth Annual Eagles Youth Partnership Chess Tournament at Lincoln Financial Field, 1020 Pattison Ave. 

Owning a calm exterior, Blocker uses his 16 pieces to reveal the intensity of his interior drive. At January’s 43rd Liberty Bell Open in Center City, he won six of seven matches, with one draw, to claim first place, a $728 prize and 400 points to add to his United States Chess Federation (USCF) rating. He emerged victorious three out of seven times at May’s 2011 National High School Championships in Nashville, Tenn. 

“My style is logical,” the young man said after scoring his fourth triumph in five games. 

He could not recall when his ASAP interaction began but expressed happiness with his affiliation, which ended with his June graduation. His schooling will take him to Doylestown, where he will look to start a club. He welcomes all of live’s moves, especially ones that will involve capturing kings and queens. 

“I’m looking to raise my rating to between 1,500 and 1,600 by the end of the year,” he said of his current 1,215 standing. 

Attaining his desired range will give him Class C designation on the USCF’s list, with Senior Master status to kick in when he hits 2,400. Two boys representing Queen Village’s William Meredith School, 725 S. Fifth St., trail Blocker in competitions but could prove to be his equals in terms of dedication and tenacity. 

“I’ve been playing since I was 4 or 5,” 10-year-old Jacob Wycoff said after his fourth checkmate. 

Going undefeated pleased him as he used his attacking style to thwart his opponents. While other children feasted on fruit, the resident of the 700 block of South Mildred Street recounted how he devoured his competition with timely moves. 

“I feel good about beating good players,” Jacob said.

This represents his first year with ASAP, and he owes most of his participation to his time at Conshohocken’s Miquon Day Camp, one of its 30 summer clubs operating in schools and camps. His eagerness to defeat good players will receive a boost this fall as he begins the fifth grade at Spring Garden’s Julia R. Masterman School, whose middle and high schools captured first-place finishes at the Chess League Championships. Jacob will have support from Anthony Mecchi, another former Meredith student who will head to Masterman.

“Anthony began dabbling at 5 or 6,” Andrea Mecchi said as her son completed his fourth match.

Playing No Stress Chess, with cards to help learners to become familiar with the pieces’ functions, helped the 10-year-old to mature. 

“This is his first big outing,” Andrea Mecchi said of her son, who also plays at Miquon.

The young resident of Eighth and Catharine streets lost his final contest but garnered two victories and worthwhile memories. 

“I like that the game involves thinking and strategy,” he said, adding that using rooks and pawn promotion to register checkmates enthuses him.

The students’ mental maturity impressed Chestnut Hill’s Andy Bonnaffon, who dropped his three games. 

“All of these kids seem to have mastered the knowledge that chess promotes discipline,” he said. “They certainly showed me I need to work on my strategies.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.