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Checkmate For Kids

Goodbye, Game Boy? So long, Play Station? A growing number of kids are having fun playing chess, and it's earning high marks in the classroom.

The United States Chess Federation says it's membership has increased to 90,000 members, and more than half are kids.

Like many of her fellow second graders,The Early Show's Correspondent Tracy Smith reports, Dardalie Brooks knows her way around a chessboard.

"It's not that hard," says Brooks.

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Her opponent is a bit more modest.

"You have to really concentrate on what you're doing," says Laura.

Whatever it takes, the 7-year-olds are passionate about the centuries-old game, which is more often associated with geezers than grade school children. And they are picking up the game, even if the terminology may be a little beyond their years.

"I show them bishops only move diagonally and they look at me like, "dia-kon-ugly?" laughs chess instructor Eric Hutchins. "They are so resilient, they don't mind making mistakes. It's easier to teach the game to little kids then grown adults."

That's why more schools are now teaching chess to children, not as an extracurricular activity, but as a valuable academic skill such as history and geography.

"What's interesting is chess is fun, but you're learning a lot of academic things while you're learning how to play chess," says Marley Kaplan, the spokesperson for Chess-in-the-Schools, a New York-based program that started bringing chess instruction to schools in 1986. "Research shows that children who play chess not only have higher reading scores, but they increase their scores faster than the national average. There are volumes and volumes of chess books that teach you how to play a better game of chess, so kids start reading."

They also socialize better. And, experts find children who play chess score much higher on emotional intelligence scales than children who don't play chess.

Given that there are more possible moves in the game of military strategy than there are atoms on Earth, kids also sharpen their strategic thinking skills.

And they're taking the lessons learned on the chessboard and applying them to schoolwork and playing on the street. Chess has taught them that when they have to make a decision, it is important to stop and think.

The Chess-in-the-Schools program also offers after-school chess clubs, which are open to kids in any grade.

Dedicated players like Marta perfect their game and take chess lessons while on the road to compete in national competitions.

In just three years, students from PS 31 in Brooklyn have brought home a whole wall of awards, something that makes the school principal, and most importantly, the kids proud.

Unlike other forms of competition, such as sports, it doesn't matter if you're big or small, a boy or a girl, old or young. Chess levels the playing field for kids.

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