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Chicago chess stars take their skills to Ghana, and make connections quickly

Chicago chess stars take their skills to Ghana, and make connections quickly
Chicago chess stars take their skills to Ghana, and make connections quickly 02:37

CHICAGO (CBS) -- While video games may come and go, chess is 1,000 years old, and it is still popular to match wits with an opponent over a board.

CBS 2's Marie Saavedra reported on a young Chicago chess champ who, along with some friends, took their skills and chess diplomacy to West Africa.

Jack Heller and his coach Matt Kearney will tell you chess is about the love of the game.

"I've been playing chess since I was four years old," Heller said. "My dad taught me."

Heller, a junior at Walter Payton College Prep, has a lot of experience playing chess in the city, and thousands of miles away in Ghana.

Jack was one of six Chicago students chosen for a cultural exchange program, hosted by the Chicago Chess Foundation and Basics International.

"It felt pretty awesome. Just meeting new people is pretty awesome," Heller said.

The idea came from a chess foundation supporter who had connections in Ghana.

It started with Zoom games during the pandemic. The Ghana players spoke English, so during breaks, the groups got to know each other.

"We'd have students share about their culture, the music they like, the food they like, just so that students got to know each other," said Matt Kearney, Executive Director of the Chicago Chess Foundation.

However, the Chess Foundation and the students wanted more.

So, with a grant and some help from the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, it all came together in a free 10-day trip in April. There was a lot of chess playing but much more.

"We talked about our common interests," said Fuller. "Sports, they're big on soccer there and chess of course."

"We got on the bus the first day to go on some cultural excursions and do a city tour, and I don't even know what they were talking about," Kearney said. "They were just laughing together, having a good time."

And for Heller, something even more special.

"I was lucky enough to have my birthday during the trip so that was probably my favorite part," he said. "The children sang a traditional song."

Kearney said it was the trip of a lifetime for everyone.

"Even though you are opponents with different objectives, you can still sit at a board and at the end of the game you can shake hands," he said.

The Chicago Chess Foundation has several programs, many certified in underserved communities. To learn more, go to

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