Paradise Chess Club is a tribute to Oscar Maldonado, an amazing chess player and national master, by his wife Yana St. John of Naples. Yana and David Mech of Marco Island, the club’s co-founder, wants to share and promote chess with the Goodland and Marco Island community so that people can come to play together in friendly social matches. Both believe that it is a great way to exercise one’s cognitive abilities and they also would like to invite younger players as well.
According to Yana, they chose Paradise Found Restaurant for its weekly Saturday meetings because it has a beautiful outdoor location by the water, which is very serene. It was also because the owner Jim Paradise was very gracious to allow the club to host their meetings from 12:30 PM – 3:30 PM every Saturday.
Yana grew up in Alaska and learned to play chess at the age of 7. She shared that she always enjoyed the game of chess and played throughout elementary school, high school and college, and that “chess helped me do well in school and business and I enjoyed sharing this with many students throughout the years.”
Yana met her husband Oscar Maldonado of 28 years at the chess park in Washington Square Park in New York City, and spent their entire marriage running chess clubs. First, the California Chess Club where Oscar also trained multiple Junior World Championships. In 2012, they moved to South Florida where Oscar founded and sponsored the Broward Chess Club. They also ran numerous afterschool chess clubs and Oscar advocated for chess as an elective subject within the school curriculum.
Yana stated that chess increased in popularity amongst students from K-12 because parents are recognizing the benefits of chess, particularly in early childhood. Experts have stated that the more the brain is used and challenged during early childhood, the more pathways are formed and created. Same reason why chess is also an excellent tool for older people to retain cognitive functions.
On a whim, the author and her husband Charlie, a beginner chess player, visited Paradise Chess Club just to check it out. Charlie ended up playing a set with Yana and she took it easy on him. Michael from Chicago also joined the group—he said he’s been playing chess all his life and was partnered with David Mech. Several interested people also stopped by the table. Chessboards and pieces are available, but you can also bring your own.
In Marco Island, Wade Keller founded the Marco Island Chess Club and had a very active pre-COVID K-12 group of students. For Wade, from a personal standpoint, he wanted to create a long-lasting appreciation of the game of chess. Wade is planning to resume the Marco Chess Club in mid-January-February for 2021.
When asked about the popularity of chess with K-12 students, Wade replied that “chess is very popular for two reasons. Charter schools and private schools are very good at using games to help students learn. Chess teaches you patience and thinking. As a player is sitting there looking at 64 squares, he/she is not bored. He is thinking and anticipating and waiting patiently for the other player to make a move. Patience is a great lesson for kids to learn.”
The author asked, “What’s so special about ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ with 62 million viewers and the sales of chessboards going through the roof making Chess popular again.”
Wade responded, “There is something very special about a Queen, there is something very special about a girl prodigy, and there is something very special about a woman winning the World Championship from the Russians.” The last U.S. chess phenom was Bobby Fischer in 1975. The Russians owned the world of Chess, and it was Fisher who broke that domination. We can dream!
Paradise Chess Club meets every Saturday at Paradise Found Restaurant at 401 Papaya Street, from 12:30 PM – 3:30 PM. All ages and levels are welcome. For information, email Yana at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 954-918-2302.