Seattle chess tournament aims to steer kids away from crime

SEATTLE-- Nine years ago, Seattle Police Detective Denise "Cookie" Bouldin didn't know the difference between a rook and a pawn.

Now, she's convinced they might help make a dent in the city's homicide rate.

"We relate the chess board to our community, to somebody trying to get us to join a gang, somebody trying to get us to do drugs," Bouldin said. "You (have to) make good choices. You can't just jump to a conclusion and think that's the only choice."

On Tuesday, Bouldin traded in her police car for a part-time referee job in the Van Asselt Elementary School Library, overseeing her third annual chess tournament between elementary school children in South Seattle.

About 180 students took part in this year's event - something that started as a casual program with just three children about nine years ago.

"It helps you to focus on making good choices. I try to relate it to the real world," Bouldin said. "Lately, especially, we've seen a lot of violence. We've seen a lot of young people dying. It's very important to give the kids in this neighborhood something to do, give them an alternative to violence."

Four people have been killed in three Seattle homicides in the past 10 days. In the most recent killing, a 27-year old man was gunned down in the International District Saturday morning. Police say more than 30 shots were fired, and the suspect remains at large.

"Detective Cookie relates chess to gangs and drugs," said Jessica Trotter, a teacher at Van Asselt. "In this area, these are things kids need to hear. She kind of uses the roles of the pieces - what the pawns can do and what the rooks can do - (and relates them) into how you as a person can steer away from a bad situation."

Ten-year-old James Riley said he'd only been playing chess for a short time, but said it keeps him safe - and thinking.

"At the basketball (court), there's a lot of mean teenagers. It helps me get away from mean kids," Riley said. "When I play chess, I can find strategies to make decisions."

The winning school from Tuesday's tournament will get a large trophy, but Bouldin said the bigger reward is something intangible.

"If I can get 180 kids - like I have now - doing this, that's 180 kids that's not participating in something negative," Bouldin said.