My Story of Power: Overcoming my Learning Disability Through Chess

By National Master Evan Rabin 

***This post was adapted from a presentation I did as part of Dr. Adena Blickstein‘s Cosmic Dragon Conference“. ***

For preschool, I went to the Jewish Board’s Child Development Center (CDC) and for elementary and middle school I went to the Churchill School and Center to overcome my so called ‘learning disability’. Until this day I have had difficulty explaining my learning disability as it was obvious that I had one but it was not exactly specified what it was. I had difficulty focusing and had issues with my speech and motor skills. At one my point my parents and grandparents thought I was deaf when I would not speak. While my learning disability diagnosis was unclear as to what it exactly it was, I know that CDC and Churchill had huge impacts on me transitioning to ‘mainstream’ school, when I went to the Dwight School for high school, where I ended up graduating with an International Baccalaureate diploma and getting into one of my top college choices, Brandeis University. While there, I graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Business and International Global Studies. However, without chess, who knows where I would be today. The game has helped me gain power by giving me community, critical thinking skills and confidence.

When I was in 2nd grade, my father Keith and brother Alex taught me how to move the pieces on a rainy day at home. I instantly got hooked and few weeks later I joined Women’s International Master Shernaz Kennedy’s chess club at Churchill, where she still has a program today. There were 30+ enthusiastic children in the club and I started gaining confidence thanks to their support. For the first time, I had a lot of good friends at school; most of them were not in my class; they were on the chess team. One week Churchill’s Health Coordinator Pete Halleck, went up to Shernaz and asked “What did you do with Evan? All he talks about now is chess.” In art class, I would only want to make drawings and paintings of chess pieces. Chess instantly became a passion and was the first thing I was ever proud of.

Two months into the joining the program, I decided to play in a tournament and I ended up winning 1st place in my Quad at Shernaz’ tournament at the Browning. A month after that my father faced a dilemma as I wanted to go to the nationals in Peoria, IL. On the one hand, he thought it was little crazy to dedicate a full weekend to chess and spend a lot of money on travel, considering I only started playing a few months ago; on the other, I was already fully dedicated to chess and he knew I would be upset if my fellow Churchill Hawks went and I did not. Sure enough we did go and from that day I have consistently played chess.

For the next several years I would travel with the Churchill team all around the country for the city, state and national championships. We went to places like Dallas, Kansas City, and Milwaukee. While we would focus on chess (one of my biggest claims to fame is being on the Churchill School 2nd place U-900 team at the 2000 Nationals in Dallas, Texas😊), we would also bond and go on team outings. We had lots of fun hanging out in the team room, playing ball between rounds, going out for meals, etc.

It was 2000 when I met my coach National Master Alan Kantor, who has remained a close friend and national championship teammate; here we are on the cover of Chess Life after we were on the Championship team of the United States Amateur Team East in May 2007.

Ever since then, many of my best friends have been through the chess world. In all of the 25 countries I have been to, I have met people through chess; in 11 of them, I have played in tournaments.

Through studying and learning chess, I have drastically improved my critical thinking skills, as exhibited to the thought process we teach our students. When your opponent makes a move, the first thing you need to do is write it down and analyze why he chose the one he did. Just as one would never cross the street without looking both ways, a chess player should never make a move without knowing exactly what his opponent’s motives are. Likewise, when I was at Churchill, there were times I would not choose the proper course of action when I was upset. On many occasions I found myself in the principal’s office for misbehavior. Most often another student would do something I did not like. Rather than come up with candidate moves, like telling the teacher or letting the situation go and moving on and determining which one would be the best, I would let my animal instincts get the best of me and often do terrible actions like hitting anther kid. Over the years, the critical thinking skills I developed in chess has helped me with my behavior, academic work, business decisions and much more.

Most often, the highest rated player in a chess tournament one; it is the one who has the best mindset and is confident. Read about my tips for building confidence in this recent blog post. Since I began playing chess in 1997, I have played in over 950 tournaments, allowing me to get lots of intense competition and learn the elements of chess that you can not learn by reading a book. In doing so, I have learned how to win, lose or draw and constantly improve. When I left Churchill and went to Dwight, I remained enthusiastic about chess and would play 2-3 tournaments on average per week. I wrote my college essay about how organizing the 1st place team at the United States Amateur Team East Championship was like running a business. At Brandeis, I was the co-president of the chess club with my good friend Elechi Kadete. Since then, chess has always been a passion of mine and in July 2017, I founded Premier Chess, which now has partnered with 80+ schools and companies like Kramer Levin and Google.

Not only has chess been a great source of confidence, but it has also been a great source of income. As people often say, if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. I am grateful to say that saying applies to me.

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