Julian Z. Schuster, President of Webster University and Chess Enthusiast, Shares the Benefits of the Game for Kids of All Ages

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Growing up in the former Yugoslavia, it was pretty much obvious that Julian Z. Schuster would learn to play chess from an early age. Most kids did. “It was embarrassing if you didn’t,” he says. Now president of Webster University, Schuster says he still enjoys playing the game he learned more than half a century ago.

In eight of the past nine years, Webster has finished first or second in the national chess championship, the President’s Cup, also known as the Final Four. This year, Webster came in second only to Saint Louis University in the Final Four, held in early April on the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock and also featured the University of Texas at Dallas among the finalists.

Saint-Louis has long been known for its chess culture. In 2014, the US Senate passed a resolution naming it the National Chess Capital. More recently, the American Chess Federation, a nonprofit governing body for chess players and supporters, announced in January that it planned to move its headquarters from Crossville, Tennessee, to St. Louis. Schuster says the growing popularity of chess in the region — and across the United States — bodes well for education in general.

How does chess help college students?

Research shows that chess is a unique didactic tool and not just an aid. It provides opportunities for growth by stimulating one’s mind. When you play chess, you think about what you are doing, consider the consequences, and choose the optimal moves.

It has been proven that when children learn to play chess, they do better under pressure and do better in exams. They learn not to be afraid to make decisions and to take responsibility for those decisions. Chess is a long-term investment in education. The benefits are similar to compound interest. It will pay off in the long run.

What are some examples of how Webster University promotes chess to young people in the St. Louis area?

Members of the Webster Chess Team actively traveled to area schools, from elementary through high school, to help teach chess. Webster University offers summer chess camps.

I believe that our middle school students are generating more and more interest in chess among schools in the area. As youngsters play baseball, football, basketball, and softball, there’s no reason they can’t see chess as a way to prove themselves and compete. For this, we set the example. Playing chess doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean you’re a nerd. Chess team members were very well received.

What does chess teach about competition and self-confidence?

Chess is a sport. You’re not always going to win. You have to practice and be persistent. When you play, you learn not to be afraid of failure.

Chess is also a great equalizer. He doesn’t ask you where you’re from or how much you earn. You don’t need money. I grew up poor. Chess helps give a vision in life, that if things didn’t go as well today as expected, you can help make the future better.

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