Chess House

Why

Raphael Neff

Bringing hope

Beyond the wealth and corruption, beyond media attention, needy individuals by the masses fight for survival and hang on to a seed of hope. Among derelict, forgotten, even hellish prisons entrapping often innocent spouses, to the streets teaming with masses, is found an example of selfless love.On a tight budget, part of the year, Ruth's family raises just enough funds at home in the U.S. to then serve for months at a time in places of need. They become "one with these people" and immerse themselves in language and culture. Music, dance, and creative forms of entertainment bring laughs and joy to onlookers.Some time ago, Ruth reach out with the idea that chess sets would be a wonderful gift to leave with the people they meet.The message of hope and life is welcomed in the most unlikely places. Ruth shares,"At the center for at risk youth, the kids were so excited to get the chess boards. Most of them knew how to play and said they were going to set up a tournament. As we were talking, a boy came up and was sad as he told me he didn't know how to play. An older boy put his arm around him and said, "don't worry, I'll teach you", his face just lit up. It was really special. Some of the kids live here, some visit, and in one section it’s like a detention center for kids who have committed crimes. We had a really effective time teaching here and used chess as a platform about the battle of life and making choices that will help them "win". I wish you could have been there.In another place, they told us how the gift of this chess board has given them something to look forward to each day and helped them so much.They are serving long sentences in a prison in Southern Brazil. So many guys we talk to tell us the hardest thing they deal with is keeping their minds sane. The conditions are so horrible and unless they have money, they don't get a lawyer to fight for their case, so the hope of getting out is very little. These two guys wrote that getting a game of chess really helped them focus their time and minds.My dad and I went up to a top layer of a prison way in the back. We talked to a large group of serious gang leaders and really "bad" tough guys (all the prisons here are divided by gangs and a lot of guys can't mix together so we have to go to them separately). We gave them two chess boards for their whole group and their response just blew me away. You just kind of think these tough guys might look down on a game or something, but they acted like we gave them a 1000 bucks! They were really touched and grateful and my dad took a second to explain to them how to set up a round robin type tournament and they wrote it all down and set up a bracket with their names and who would play who. It was really cool and just makes me happy thinking that they will start to put time into something so good. When we share so much with them about the love of Jesus, Gods profound forgiveness for them, how to change their mind, forget their past, engage their will and start to read the scriptures, then giving them the chess boards gives them a practical reminder of all we said so the words come back to them after we leave.In another place we noticed right away that something was wrong. All the guys were unbelievably thin, way more than any other prisons we had been too. They began to come up to us and ask us if we possibly had any food we could give them! It was just tragic. They explained they only got one meal a day and sometimes not even that. We could not figure everything out, but realized that there was some serious corruption going on between the gang leader, prison guards, and a huge (very evil) church. Anyway, long story short, it was getting late and was almost the hour when no one can go in our out, but we were able to leave, find a grocery store close by, and buy a lot of food to give them. We made it back and gave it directly to the guys so it could not get stolen. It’s tough because we can't really afford extra stuff like this, but in this case we just had to and we know the Lord always provides. We are going back to that same prison on Thursday, and I am going to try to see if I can get some food and fruit from the fruit market donated, as well as what we are going to bring.We had a beautiful time inside a women's prison the other day. It was pouring rain so we had to cram into a small space but we were able to really touch some precious women who were hurting. I am so grateful to the chess company that  donated some beautiful quality chess boards to us that we can give to those we meet.  It has been such a blessing and those that receive them are extremely grateful. It allows people in difficult situations to get lost in the game and focus their minds on something besides their pain.  We can learn so much from the game of chess. If we just take what life gives us and meet it move for move, we can be defeated. But a strategy  for victory requires that we go beyond ourselves and find the unexpected move. We have a flyer that we give out to prison guards, police and military with a chess piece on the front. We use the idea of chess to explain how, often we are put in positions that require us to make difficult decisions. But if we do not repay "evil for evil", but evil for good, we move ourselves into a place of victory and can break a cycle of hate.We also gave some chess boards out at a really cool event for poor children. I love giving them to like 10 and 11 year olds. It’s amazing here how many kids know how to play but don't have their own board. This one little girl named Isobel, I think she was 9, was so excited to take it home so she could play with her grandfather who taught her how to play on a piece of paper with coins as pieces!"Here's a photo of Ruth's family. They carry on with their service and we are happy to gift chess sets knowing the lives they are touching. Here are the small, lightweight chess sets that Ruth is giving away. If you know if a cause where these chess sets could make a significant life impact, don't hesitate to contact us.
Raphael Neff

Margaret claims the first win

Everyone in my family has many memories around chess from elementary school events to national championships.But the one who claims the first win is my mother, Margaret. She tells the story of how in 1961, when she was in 7th grade in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada, she won her classroom tournament in "upset" fashion. Margaret can be seen in this classroom photo 3rd from right. The winner of the girls section and the winner of the boys section were to play for the class title. In playing for the title, Margaret's final opponent suffered embarrassment when she defeated him with the same strategy he had been using to win the boy's section! She had been "tipped off" to his strategy by another one of the boys who lost to him(!)The "prize" in those days was a felt "patch" King you could sew onto your jacket. It's a fun story, nicely woven into our family history. Although there were no more opportunities to play in those days - she's still the first winner in our family!The story behind the story though is that our mother has supported our journey through chess and life behind the scenes through these years. Like all mothers who help nurture the best in their children, she is amazing, never asking for the credit she deserves.Just one unassuming example of her influence is seen in the photo below. Until now, only I and a handful of others know that the bright white drawstring chess bags included with many of today's Chess House products has its own story, thanks to my mother. I patterned this bag after the original white fabric bags she patiently sewed to keep our first chess sets prepared for play. It can be small things that make a meaningful difference. -Raphael Neff
Raphael Neff

You are making a difference

Today, 97-year-old Bill DeGraaff stepped through my office door, accompanied by his daughter Hilda. His love for chess dates back to his early years in Holland. Let me share with you how this man made a life-changing difference. His visits are rare and unannounced these days. Like today. I drop everything and welcome him. Though he walks on his own and his mind is quite clear, Bill is now fragile. Each visit it's evident that he misses his wife more than anything. Although it takes significant coordination and effort he has come unexpectedly again today to say hello and see what's new - as he did in the early days of Chess House. I welcome him again into the office and invite Bill and Hilda to take a seat. With patience, I share the unique STACK board1 and the Millennium Exclusive2. Bill marvels at how chess computers have changed through the years (he has owned many) and plays a few moves on the Exclusive. He insists that his chess playing days are behind him. But I know that chess will always give him some joy and put a smile back on his face. With a little encouragement he makes some moves and almost allows himself to continue playing this game. Bill asks me to help him remember what opening is in play. I tell him that he started with the French defense. "Oh yes! That's the one your brother Elliott reminded me that I taught him" says Bill. (Admittedly it's a favorite of mine as well.) After a few more moves Bill became emotional. Playing chess now reminds him of past wonderful memories. He has outlived most in his family. He's even bid chess farewell. But it still owns a bit of his heart. Every time Bill enters the office, sometimes years between - sometimes just months, I recognize how he was present in a key part of our youth. To Bill, he was just enjoying chess and sharing it with young players who were interested. One generation ago that was us youngsters, my brothers and I. Today, however when he was wrestling a bit with his memories, I reminded Bill, "You ARE making a difference"   Bill played a significant role in our young lives encouraging chess and helping us better our game and strive to take down rivals with relentless dedication. Shown below is Bill with Ted Neff (middle) and Elliott Neff (right) I reminded him that Chess House exists today because he was very influential in teaching the game and sharpening our skills back in those days. As further evidence of this impact, I handed Bill a copy of my brother Elliott's book A Pawn's Journey3. Bill's early influence on Elliott Neff helped shape Elliott's path to reaching over 10,000 kids and founding Chess4Life4 with the mission to teach life skills through chess. To emphasize this impact, consider this. For several years Boeing is sponsoring Chess4Life's early learning initiative5 due to chart-topping results preparing kids for kindergarten. And that's just the surface. I'm writing this non-choreographed story just hours after these photos were taken. It's my "living tribute" to Bill.   Before Bill left today, we talked about Elliott's recent book, A Pawn's Journey. I think it's a fitting chapter in our long friendship. This book portrays the essence of making a difference with chess. The story draws you into the main character April's high school encounters surrounding chess. It's a highly-relatable narrative based on collective real-life experience of many of Elliott's students. Before he left, I gave Bill this cap. We all laughed and agreed it made him look quite young again. We both know that each time he stops in could be his last. But he says that's okay. God knows and all's well with his soul as a fellow man of faith. "Please stop in again Bill!" "I will try!" he said. -Raphael Neff   What I've learned from Bill Relationships matter most. Generosity pays back over time. Thankfulness is the best attitude. Long marriages are possible and worth it. Chess is one of those great ways to bring people together.. And you are making a difference today whether you realize it or not. My personal passion with Chess House is not only designing unique products and the most exceptional shopping experience, it's helping you enjoy or make a difference with chess - wherever you are in life. References in this article The STACK chess board Millennium Exclusive chess computer A Pawn's Journey by Elliott Neff Chess4Life teaching life skills through chess Early Learning Chess Initiative
Raphael Neff

Weekend to Remember

Saturday, before Memorial Day, 2018: Waking up early Saturday morning, Matthew, as usual was up at 6:30 and ready to go. "Dad, can we take the truck?" This morning, I was planning to spend a half hour of quiet time before anyone else awoke. But as anyone with four kids knows, plans must be flexible. I have been looking for more opportunities to share chess with my kids. For my wife and I, finding a suitable, consistent time has been challenging with all the changes in our life. But this morning, I decided, "no excuses!". I would just seize the opportunity to exercise his mind AND body by grabbing a chess set and heading to the park, and just be in-the-moment with my son. I've learned that one-on-one time with my kids is worth every second. Later in life, I believe I will reflect on these years and think, "Yes, I took time for my family -- sometimes seemingly at the expense of my career". I am thankful for the wise words often heard, "Don't miss these years!" When I told him that we'd head to town, play some chess at the park, run some obstacles on the playground, grab a quick breakfast and then head to the church to help make some adjustments to the irrigation sprinklers - he was DE-LIGHTED. Kid's love to DO things and get out... if we let them - and allow ourselves time to connect with them often enough. Soon we were at work and I offered for him to pick out a chess set for the morning. He picked an orange flex board and a neon green bag with one of my favorites, the "Inspiration" pieces. While he wasn't watching I packed in an extra surprise. Little rewards come in handy! Then it was off to the park!  He spotted this picnic table and set up the board. "This is the most amazing day, Dad!!" Then it occurred to me, this means more to him then I realize. He was enjoying every minute and I happened to grab my camera from work. I had merely been flexible enough to make him a priority with this spur of the moment change to the trip this morning. I had countless things on my mind - but I decided to put it all aside this morning. After all, it's Memorial Day Weekend. His chess game is very elementary right now. In fact, he's moving mostly pawns still. But I can see each time that he's picking up new ideas - today too! He blocked my Queen from taking his Queen, with his Bishop. Many kids can play a strong game at six years old and many are just starting. I haven't pushed him hard to learn, but now is the time to get more serious because he's really interested. Matthew loves to play outdoors, spends minimal time on digital devices, and other than his occasional orneriness is a happy child who loves to make people laugh. Half way through the game, his attention started to wane briefly and I said, "Matthew, win this game and I have a surprise for you!" He was completely engaged again. "Matthew, Do you know what Memorial Day is about?" To my surprise he replied, "Yes, I learned at school, it's remembering people who sacrificed for our freedom and helped us be able to enjoy times like this." We played a few more moves and then I asked him what he had learned in this chess game so far. He repeated some things including the Bishop block. I then told Matthew, "We've stretched our minds for a bit, it's time to get some exercise at this park!" But first, remember the surprise? "Oh yes!" I told him to look in the middle compartment of the neon green chess set carrying case.   He zipped it open, and pulled out some stickers that he had never seen before. Here's the one he chose.   We then put away the chess set and proceeded to the exercise portion of our park adventure.   Matthew enjoyed every moment. Soon it was time for breakfast and finally, the irrigation project.   Today I was reminded of a valuable lesson. Rather than wondering why "I don't have time for [blank]", just start earlier and make it happen! I don't have a weekly schedule for chess right now, but that's no excuse not to seize the moment when it is there. This Memorial Day Saturday has been hugely memorable for both Matthew and I. He observed during our game that the park was a peaceful place, in contrast to many other places in the world. I reminded him that we can appreciate what we have, we can give to people in need through organizations that are doing good work for them, and we can pray for needs we know about. With thanks for the many people who have sacrificed to make this possible, I want my sons to grow up grateful.   Back to chess. I love that chess exercises young minds, a catalyst for creativity and thinking in new ways. It supports academic efforts and the list goes on. Most of all, I love the real face-time it provides. Chess is a natural time to chat, learn together, and talk about life - like we experienced today. For me, Chess House is a mission to bring chess to every home. Every home and family that has a chess set has another relationship strengthened. And that's what we need today. The dilemma facing our kids is turning into a torrential storm of media. And we're just seeing the beginning of this. The things youth encounter now beg them to be equipped with life skills and strong family relationships early in life. Please be there for your loved ones. Make memories while you can and prepare them to succeed. Chess can play a role - and we can help you. The Inspiration Chess Set that Matthew chose is a great place to start! You can pick from many colors and make it your own. Get a chess set in your home and let us cheer you on.   Where are you in your journey? Feel free to comment on this blog post below.
Raphael Neff

4-year-old develops grit

Here’s an incredible story of a 4-year-old developing grit and the “Can Do” Attitude through his older brother’s example. Four year old Joel has been giving up (resigning) his chess games anytime he loses his most powerful piece, the queen, appearing to think “there’s no way I can win without my queen”. At the 2018 state elementary chess championships, once again, Joel resigned a game when his queen got trapped.   At the same time, just a short distance away, Coach Elliott observed a game being played by Joel’s 6-year-old brother Caleb. Elliott shares, “Caleb’s game was fairly equal when I first walked by. Later on I saw he was behind a queen. After the game was finished, I asked Caleb, How did you do? Win, Draw, or Learn? I was quite surprised when he said he had won the game! I replied, “You won? I thought you were behind a queen during the game!” Caleb simply replied, “Yes, I missed a pin so I had to lose my queen - the Bishop was pinning my queen but I still won!” I realized at that moment that little brother Joel was listening, so I intentionally questioned Caleb further. "So what did you do? You didn’t just give up when you lost your queen?" Caleb replied, “I kept looking for ways. I used my rooks and I really just tried to find a way. Eventually I managed to pin his queen to his king with my rook - I built a battery with my rooks so I could do this - after winning his queen I ended up checkmating his king with my Rook. I gave a big high five to Caleb as he finished his story, congratulating him on not giving up and persevering to eventually come back and win the game. Then I turned to Joel who had been listening intently, “Did you notice that Joel? Isn’t that great that when Caleb was down a queen, he kept looking for chances to win. He didn’t give up! So what do you think? Next time you are down a queen are you going to give up?” Joel looked as thoughtful as a 4-year-old can and smiled as he answered, “I won’t give up - I’ll keep trying.” Elliott continued, “Well after the next game I got a chance to talk to Joel. He had a small smile as he quietly came up and told me this story. ‘Daddy, there was this place in the game that I lost my queen, but I still won the game!’ That’s great Joel! How did it happen? Joel said, ‘We didn’t remember whose turn it was. So I let him play even though I would lose my Queen.’ As his Dad, I was so very pleased to hear this - that my son was willing to do what was better for the other player even though it was not good for him! He was being kind to another young person! Remember this is the kindergarten section and Joel showed exceptional sportsmanship by letting the other player move even though he knew he was going to lose his queen because of that move.   What happened next was remarkable. Joel didn’t give up this time, in spite of losing his queen. He found a way to win. He found a way!” What a moment for a parent, coach, or mentor - especially this youngster! Elliott says, “It’s about getting over a mental block. Through the experience of another student (his older brother) who wouldn’t give up, and succeeded, Joel gained the confidence to not give up himself when he was in a similar situation. That change in belief from ‘I can’t’, to ‘maybe it’s possible’, allowed him to break though that mental barrier and grow this valuable life skill, what I call the “Can Do” Attitude." Caleb and Joel’s perseverance and sportsmanship exemplify the concepts, culture, and results of Chess4Life programs run by caring educators who are transforming kids’ lives with chess in schools throughout America. Elliott with Joel who won 3.5 out of 5 games. Their sister won 3 of her games and took home a trophy! Chess4Life helps educators bring life-changing tools into classrooms without any barriers of prior chess knowledge. Kids learn life skills while having fun. If you're an educator or teacher who wants to make a difference, licensing the Chess4life curriculum and tools will help your school succeed with chess!