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On Chess: First Girls Earn Chess Merit Badge At St. Louis Chess Club

Woman grandmaster and commentator Jennifer Shahade examines a position on the board with some scouts during the Scouts BSA Girls Merit Badge Workshop.  Feb. 4, 2019
Crystal Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

This February saw the start of a new era for the Boy Scouts of America. The 109-year-old organization has changed its name to Scouts BSA and allowed girls aged 11-17 to join their troops and participate in all scouting activities. With this change, the St. Louis Chess Club chose to host the first-in-the-nation chess merit-badge workshop for girls on Feb. 3.

The Chess Club has hosted similar workshops since the inception of the chess merit badge in 2011. The workshops consist of a full-day class where scouts demonstrate their knowledge of chess to merit-badge counselors in many areas (history, etiquette, tactics, openings, endgames, and tournament play). Teaching is a fundamental concept in the Scouts BSA merit-badge program and an essential part of the chess merit badge. When students are learning a new skill, they often don’t think about teaching. However, students tasked with teaching a subject to a peer often have increased confidence and mastery in the topic area. Scouts who are deemed to have earned the chess merit badge should be able to explain and demonstrate to a novice the rules of chess.

With the debut of the new structure for Scouts BSA, the Chess Club reimagined the workshop to be a special day involving some of the best women chess players in the world. In a stroke of luck, the Chess Club is also playing host this month to a new, strong invitational chess tournament for some of the world’s very best women chess players. The inaugural Cairns Cup features 10 players from around the world in a round-robin event. It takes place from Feb. 5-16. It is the strongest women’s chess tournament ever held on U.S. soil.

Cairns Cup players were asked to visit the scouting day and work with girls pursuing the chess badge. Throughout the day, scouts and players worked through the merit-badge requirements by teaching and demonstrating their knowledge about chess. In the end, the historic day saw 12 girls earned their first merit badge.

Participants in the 2019 Cairns Cup: Alexandra Kosteniuk, Nana Dzagnidze, Valentina Gunina, Bela Khotenashvili, Elisabeth Paehtz, Marie Sebag, Harika Dronavalli, Zhansaya Abdumalik, Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih.

Richard Pointer is scholastic coordinator at the St. Louis Chess Club. He leads the Scouts BSA Chess Merit Badge workshop six times per year.

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