Tayler Boyke-Darbouze is a senior at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School. She is currently pursuing an associate’s degree in biology with a mathematics concentration at Medgar Evers College. When she graduates high school, she will…
Interview with Vincent Bogert, Retired Chess Coordinator at 279X
On May 17, 2023, Vincent Bogert was announced as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a veteran chess coordinator at P.S./M.S. 279, a public school in the Bronx. After the ceremony, CIS alumna Marilyn Lucero met with Vincent to talk about his experience teaching in the Bronx, and the effect it has had on the community.
Marilyn Lucero: How did you start playing chess?
Vincent Bogert: I started playing chess. I was in the park, and we had swings, slides, and other entertainment. I would see the men playing chess. I kept looking at them, I was trying to figure out what they were doing with the pieces. You can imagine a 6-year-old trying to figure out a chessboard without an explanation. I eventually learned how to play, it was fun. I played a little bit with an older cousin of mine and my father. When I was in high school one of our coaches wanted to form a chess team, and he did, and it was a good run. We played for most of the year. We played a group of different schools. I think my coach’s agenda was to beat one specific school. He knew Catholic high schools were proficient in chess, but that didn’t stop him from trying to beat them. After that, I had another year of high school, but there was no more chess team. Nothing happened.
Our school was built in 1992 and went through some modifications required through the summer of 1995. I was part of the transition team. During the third summer, the chess boards in the backyard were repositioned incorrectly, with the white squares placed on the wrong side. This misalignment left spectators with seats but players would have to stand. The boards had to be fixed, and once they were, our principal expressed more interest in chess. I was interested, but there were a lot of other things I was doing in school, so a colleague took the lead. After a year he was leaving, and it was either I would take over chess or there would be no chess, and I knew that chess was good for kids. When I took over the club, I noticed that some of our students who were a bit more challenged academically and behaviorally started to do better in school once they started playing chess.
Some new research on an old idea started to influence me when I saw it in chess. Self—efficacy is a belief of an individual that they can succeed. Self-efficacy can be a step-wise road to building a person, their self-confidence, and belief in themselves. In contrast to building self-esteem which would be an arduous process, self-efficacy is a road map to personal success. With proper guidance of student skills and experiences, it is. That is our approach for every student.
After a year of instruction, I didn’t have the best skills to keep teaching my students. I didn’t have a lot of time to develop my chess, so it was a struggle for me to teach players who were getting better. Coming along to save me was Chess in the Schools, they sent me an instructor. I think he was an expert. His skills went far beyond mine which meant he could help the students improve chess skills. The Chess in the Schools program helped a lot, especially with all the tournaments that they provided. College Bound has helped some of our students, especially those who want to keep playing. High school teams are a little rarer than other teams. College Bound allows high schools to stay competitive.
ML: The Bronx, generally, has a negative connotation because it is known as the most dangerous out of the five boroughs. Do you think chess has helped your students stay on the right path?
VB: It very well could have. Overall I think it has helped, but there is no guarantee. I tried to track students’ progress after they graduated. We have one student who just became a doctor. I’ve looked at many students throughout the years. When I was tracking the tournament players from the years 2004 to 2011, I saw almost all of them were in college. I had this one student who was a bit challenged by the environment. He had transferred to our school because he had behavior problems. One day in June, he was sitting in the lobby and looking at all the trophies we had in the showcase. He started asking a lot of questions about them. He told me that he wanted to play chess. That boy was certainly a character. The boy did not end up going to college, however, he did end up working as an auto mechanic. He is very productive and very happy. Some students are challenged and are helped by chess, that’s why I’m still here.
ML: What do you think is your most memorable moment with the 279X chess club?
VB: I think our greatest moments aren’t necessarily those when we are at nationals or on stage. I think it is important to see the improvement of each student. I have other moments with students when I know they are successful and when I know we’ve reached them in some way. One of my great moments was at the 2009 Nationals in Sacramento. We had a whole week off from school, but we didn’t have enough money to stay for a whole week. We stayed for a couple of extra days, We went to San Francisco, Muir Woods, and Yosemite NP. It was April and the waterfalls were flowing down into the valley. At one of the falls one student said to me, “I have never felt so alive”. I knew the feeling, kind of like ‘Rocky Mountain High’. We don’t always get the chance to go see other sights while at Nationals, but when we do it means a lot.
When somebody comes back and tells me that they’ve done very well, it is a great moment. We have a couple of graduates who are now teaching chess. I just heard that we have a student who is teaching chess in Hawaii, Yazmeen Marte, and I know she just graduated from college. She was in College Bound. I think she made a transition, one that many students make. The transition is when you stop playing chess for the competition and play solely for the joy of it. To me, teaching chess is great. Teaching chess in Hawaii is a little better.
ML: How would you say your relationship is with the parents of your children?
VB: My relationship with the parents of the chess club students is good right now. When we started being more successful, I had some parents who became our chaperones and went with us out of state. I first took parent chaperones in 2003 to Nashville. I think taking them contributed to our success in the competition. From 2003 until 2018 we managed a top-ten finish in one or more categories at nationals. I had known the parents, and they knew me. Also, we had a history of going out of state since we had more serious chess players. We went to all the nationals since the nineties and tried to go to it, and when we could, elementary and middle school, that’s becoming less possible. The parents knew me well enough from some years of contact. The parents generally got to know me more as the program got more established. I think there might be a bit of a gap since the pandemic, but we are working on connecting with more of the parents.
ML: Many of the students in P.S. 279 are low-income, has funding been an issue for P.S. 279?
VB: We’ve always had a principal commitment since 2004. The Grand Prix funding has always been essential. I believe that the tournament program is integral to kids’ development. It is very easy for me to try to get to every tournament. We did well in the Grand Prix, without the Grand Prix money we’d be in a little bit of trouble. Our principal would support us. Next year, we will have slight budget cuts because our school is downsizing. If the kids deserve to go to Nationals, we will find a way. We know Chess in the Schools can only support a number of schools. One of the things that can kill the program is that you have to pay a teacher to run the program. This person gets paid around $50 an hour, which is possibly just $100 a week. There is a 36-week commitment that this person has to give, and if not then there is no chess club. That does not cost more than any other team or activity going to competitions and we get the Grand Prix boost. Then people have to be paid for accompanying their school on Saturdays for the tournaments. That costs more. It is a challenge for some schools to find the funding and someone to fulfill this Coordinator role. They need to see the value of chess.
I do not get paid for the work that I do. I know that the school would pay me if I asked, but I already have retirement income and a social security income, and I even work part-time. I am not someone who needs to be paid to be there, but some people do. There might be some people who have the time and energy, but the funding may not be there. I think there should be more of an effort by elected officials to support programs like chess because our communities need it.
ML: A lot of students find themselves in after-school programs because their parents need to find a place to take care of them for a couple of extra hours after school. Yeah, I think you mentioned like over a point, just because, like a lot of parents themselves.
VB: I think childcare is a big issue in the Bronx. Some parents put their kids in whatever, and eventually fully participate. Some parents give the same participation they give in the school day. Few kids are placed there because there is no other place to go. I think it could start off with them not wanting to be there, but it is my job to get them excited about the program. If a student was placed in chess because of childcare needs, then we need to make it work for them. We try to make it exciting for them. We used to say, 20 years ago, we need to make the classroom more exciting because we’re competing with social media and multimedia. We have smart boards now, and there are no longer blackboards. Chess is more appealing to kids when they are fully engaged. Even if the case is that a parent placed their kid there because they had nowhere to go, we can entice them to participate in the experience, and ultimately if we light them up they will participate fully, and I’ll wind up with someone like you. You’re one of the great. You made it to College Bound. Every year I am hearing about the great colleges that the College Bound students went to. I think it is interesting when I find out about parent involvement in high schools. I went to an award ceremony where they were honoring parent coordinators, including our parent coordinator from our school. Some of the awards went to high school parent coordinators. I was thinking what a different game that is.
ML: How do you ensure that everyone can participate and learn during lessons?
VB: Our school coordinator, Samantha Velez, has helped us. Samantha has been with us for six years now. Our chess coach this year is Tristian Stovall, and he is also really helpful. They can both back me up on this. I have one student that does not have the greatest attention span. Every time we have a lesson he shouts out, “We know this already”. “We know this” is something that should come down the line maybe after your rating gets to one thousand. When a student is constantly saying, “We know this”, it is because they think intelligence alone will make them great at chess. We all know that intelligence alone does not make a great chess player. This student just has never gotten over that feeling. We can’t give up on him though. I don’t know if we have an answer to the challenge, especially since we are K-8, but we have to keep trying to make sure he doesn’t cause a disturbance to other students. We understand there can be an effect on younger students because they feel like they have to be at this other student’s level. If we have a part of the classroom that’s not working well, we have to contain it because we need it to work well for everybody. Samantha, Tristan, and I are constantly trying to find new ways to make sure everyone can learn.
ML: Among the students in eighth grade who are about 12-13 years old, what is the biggest difference between teaching young children compared to teaching high school or college students?
VB: For me, it’s completely different. When I start I can have the simplest concepts like an ideal opening, it’s amazing. Then I like to do what I call sniping. I start walking around the room and walk on a board and ask questions like what’s wrong with this position? But when I start talking about the ideal opening with the younger group, it gets a bit more complicated.
I mentioned that already we have to be entertaining. If you want to take it out of the realm of the 21st century, you could read a book by Bruno Bettelheim, called Uses of Enchantment. He talks a lot about fairy Tales. But there are certain things we can do in chess that will enchant kids. They don’t always relate to chess, I know, four move checkmate is a form of enchantment. But it’s also something that they need to know about. There was one of the most famous moments in my school, not one of the greatest. We brought an unrated player. I think he was a third grader at that tournament and his opponent asked him whether he knew the four-move checkmate. He had no idea what the four-move checkmate was, even though we had gone over it and he proceeded to lose the four-move checkmate.
Wizardry is easier to do with the younger kids and it’s easier to enchant them. If you’re successful at reaching them when they’re young, you don’t have to keep that stuff up too much.
When a kid comes to a tournament on a Saturday, that shows they care. They could have been home watching cartoons, but they decided to spend their Saturday playing at a tournament. I buy gift cards from Subway and give them to whoever scores the highest in their section. I am not bribing them, I am recognizing their achievements.
ML: What other incentives do you use to motivate your students to keep playing?
VB: Our Parent Coordinator is Samantha, and she is very involved in the school. When she first came to us I was talking to her about chess club. Our issue is that we have a hard job getting girls interested. They seem to drop out at a rapid rate. We have had some girls in the club, but it isn’t very high. When Samantha learned that she offered to be the girl’s Coordinator. Before the pandemic, we were doing well. We had a lot of girls and boys, and we were doing well in tournaments. The reason I started mentioning Samantha is because she’s the parent coordinator. She gets a lot of stuff donated. Sometimes we use donations as motivators.
ML: How do you deal with the cost of tournaments?
VB: We had a former CIS instructor who was so good to us that if we wanted to send our kids to a tournament at the Marshall, he would have arranged that we’d pay half price. He had a key to the place, and if we got there before 8 AM, he would give us a lesson. I don’t know where all those high-rated players go if they want to get better, especially because there are a limited number of free CIS tournaments. When it comes to cost, CIS takes us through high school. People have to find where they are going to play and how much it is going to cost them if they want to play after high school. I went to a few non-CIS tournaments over the years. I can’t afford it, even when they give me the lowest entry fee. These tournaments have bigger trophies, but who can afford them? I think free tournaments are still a great appeal to high school students. For some high schoolers, it could be some of their last years playing competitively. I have one former student who has come to the majority of the tournaments this year. She was able to do so because CIS has free tournaments.
ML: How is it when former students come back?
VB: We have some of our graduates coming by every once in a while. One of my former students, Diante Davis, was a member of College Bound. He came back to our school and played a simul against 12 of our students. He pretty much polished them off pretty quickly. There is a little bit of enchantment in that. You guys interviewed Devin Castillo’s mom. She was very dedicated to the chess club and to both of her children. She had a daughter, and even though it would have been easier to have her daughter stay in P.S. 279, she made sure she listened to what she wanted. Her daughter was interested in the arts, so she ended up going to a neighboring middle school. Devin was interested in chess, so he stayed at P.S. 279. I think parent involvement impacts a child. In any case, student success lets us know we are doing many things right. Devin could have gone to another middle school but came to us instead. Mom and sister settled on another school.
ML: Now that you’ve won the lifetime achievement award, what’s next for you? What are your plans for the upcoming school year?
VB: It was an honor for me to win the Lifetime Achievement Award. When someone calls your efforts and achievement, especially when it’s someone you respect like Chess in the Schools, it means a lot. It boosts your confidence and makes you believe in yourself and your future success.
Well, we’ve been thinking a lot about what’s going on in the chess world and making some changes for next year. But honestly, that’s something we do every year, not just because of the award. When it comes to a student’s success, it’s not just about excelling in chess or academics. It’s about finding success in life, feeling good about yourself, and not having any regrets. We want to keep going and keep improving. So, for the next year, we have some plans for changes, mostly influenced by what we’ve learned during the pandemic. But our main goal is to just keep doing what we’re doing in terms of allowing student development through chess.
One thing we realized is that our chess club was a bit unbalanced. We had elementary students and then some middle school students who didn’t have much experience with chess. We have kids from a wide range of ages, so it can be a bit disruptive at times. Some students may leave the club because they don’t feel like they have people of the same age group. To tackle this, we decided to take a page from the past. We reached out to third-grade teachers, and asked them to recommend kids for chess next year. That way, we hope to have a more consistent group and make our club even better. We already have 19 kids recommended, so let’s see how that turns out. The kids all eventually grow up and mature. Those little third graders who will become fourth graders. I can already picture them as confident and skilled chess players when they walk into the room. That’s what keeps me going.
After our interview, some of Vincent Bogert’s students wanted to say a few words about their former chess coordinator:
Devin Castillo: Mr. Bogert is an amazing man who has dedicated most of his time to helping kids like me pursue chess. He is the backbone of the school PS./MS. 279X’s chess legacy! So many great players developed in that school and brought home national trophies and plaques thanks to him!!
Jace Oxley: I am grateful for Mr. Bogert’s dedication. He’s been at 279X organizing chess operations since I was in kindergarten and he is still doing it today. I’m grateful to him for being such a positive role model for me as well as other Chess on the Schools students. Everything he’s done to make me who I am today and instill values like patience, consistency, and hard work are things I will never forget.
Sadiba Hasan: Mr. Bogart was something like a sixth family member when I was growing up. My older brother, older sister, and I were all part of the chess club while we were students at P.S./M.S.279. He worked closely with my mother, who volunteered at our school’s chess club and knows my father as well. He has always cared for us all and looked out for us. We went to several chess nationals with Mr. Bogart (Nashville, Sacramento, Minneapolis, etc). He cared about serving his students and community. Many of the students he works with come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Despite having limited resources working at a public school in the Bronx, he always took care of his students. Every chess tournament on Saturdays, he brought sandwiches and cookies for us to lunch on. He always told the funniest jokes and made us laugh. He had nicknames for all the students in the chess club. Mine was “Little Poison,” because I was the youngest in the chess club when I joined in the 3rd grade. What a kind, smart, and sweet man. Although I haven’t seen him in maybe 8 years, I pray for him and hope he’s doing all the best. He deserves this award — I’m glad he is getting the recognition that he deserves.