Peter Croce doesn’t consider himself to be an incredible chess player, but that’s not to say he isn’t an expert on the game. Croce, who has been teaching chess around Hudson County for the past 13 years, has coached his kids to state tournament wins each of those years. No other coach in the state, Croce said, has won more than two or three years in a row.
“I’m not a grand master player,” he said, “but I am a grand master instructor.”
Croce started the Hoboken Chess Club, his first in the area, well over a decade ago, and it has since grown into the Hudson County Chess Association, which holds classes in Jersey City, Hoboken, Guttenberg and now Weehawken (as well as a few places outside Hudson County).
The group has served over 10,000 children, Croce estimated, but recently it’s been more difficult to get the word out.
“I want there to be chess clubs in every school, and I want every recreation department in Hudson County to offer chess classes or hold a tournament,” he said. “Parents are always looking to have something for their children to do after school. Well, chess is the perfect thing.”
Croce has observed many former students opting for athletic sports rather than chess, he said, but saw no reason why a kid can’t do both. According to him, sports and chess go almost perfectly hand in hand.
“Sports and chess are pretty similar,” he said. “You have to practice a lot, and when you get to play in a tournament, it’s the same type of competition. You learn sportsmanship, how to get along with other kids, and respect. You don’t even have to speak the same language as your opponent.”
“This is a game for kings and queens, it just happens to be something that’s very useful for children.” – Peter Croce
A different type of teaching
Asked why his students, some of whom start as young as 4 years old and range in ages up to 10 or 11, do so well in tournaments, Croce said that his teaching style, which emphasizes the history of the game and the use of tactics and strategy over simply knowing the rules, makes players better.
“Benjamin Franklin was a big chess player, and wrote a book about it,” he said. “My students know who Franklin was, but not that he played chess. Little things like that keep them interested.”
In addition, Croce says that he does his best to treat his students as adults. That way, he says, they react better to his instruction and come to appreciate the seriousness of the game they’re learning.
“I saw another instructor teaching a kid once, and he was referring to the knight as the ‘horsey,’ ” said Croce. “Which is fine; the kid knew what he was talking about, but what’s the point of that? Why not treat them like adults?”
Professionalism, he said, is one of the biggest keys to being successful at the game.
“This is a game for kings and queens, it just happens to be something that’s very useful for children to learn at a young age, but that doesn’t mean they need to act like children while learning,” he said. “They should act like kings and queens.”
Weehawken’s newest chess club
Croce has been teaching chess in Weehawken, at the Subway restaurant near the PathMark on Park Avenue, for about a year now, but has recently upgraded to a more conducive location, the township’s waterfront.
“At Lincoln Harbor, there are about 20 chess tables, and it has to be the most beautiful and quiet place to play chess in the whole county, but no one ever goes,” he said.
Beginning this month, Croce has started a monthly tournament at the waterfront, taking place the third Sunday of every month. He said that he hopes to eventually move his Monday night classes there as well, though perhaps not before the winter.
Registration for all of Croce’s classes, from Hoboken to Guttenberg to Weehawken and beyond, cost $30 per month, payable on the 15th of each month. For more information on Croce and the club, visit www.hudsoncountychess.tripod.com or e-mail Croce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com