August 3, 2022

Plotting Chess Strategies in the Park While Fostering Friendship, Community

FACING OFF: Impact Chess, a nonprofit founded by young Princeton resident Eric Wu, held its first outdoor gathering last month at Turning Basin Park. A second will take place this weekend.

By Anne Levin

When Eric Wu, founder of the nonprofit Impact Chess, planned the first “Chess in the Park” event last month at Turning Basin Park, he wasn’t sure how many people would show up. To his delight, some 25 players of all ages and skill levels arrived on the scene. They were challenged by a single player — National Master Winston Ni — who took them on in 19 simultaneous games.

“It was a huge success,” said Wu. “My main goal is to inspire younger kids to pursue chess more, to give them an experience that makes them associate chess with community and friendship. It was our first-ever in-person event, and I think we did that. You could see 19 kids huddled over 19 boards, and you could see the dedication. It was a sight you don’t usually see anymore — focused and quiet.”

“Chess in the Park” returns to Turning Basin Park off Alexander Street on Sunday, August 7, from 2-6 p.m. Wu, a Princeton resident for the past nine years, is expecting an even larger crowd this time. As a rising junior at Phillips Exeter Academy and former student at Princeton Day School (PDS), he isn’t much older than the young chess players he works to inspire.

As a small child in China, Wu played the Chinese game Go. After moving to the U.S. with his family the summer before second grade, he began learning about chess. “I went to chess camp at Princeton Academy, and I really enjoyed it,” said Wu. “I’ve been playing since then. PDS had a pretty big chess program, too, with coaches and team events.”

One night last December, Wu was chatting by phone with a friend from Princeton, about his life and the direction in which it was going. “I realized that the good things I had in my life, the good decisions I had made, were because of what chess had taught me,” he said. “I have the tactical mentality to evaluate situations. It has taught me creativity, critical thinking, calmness under pressure, and defeat with grace. I started thinking, maybe everyone could use a little chess in their lives. And that’s how I founded Impact Chess.”

The nonprofit is registered as a 501(c)(3). While Wu has two more years at his
boarding school in New Hampshire, he plans to run the venture online. “We have been making events and recruiting new people,” he said. “The main location is the greater Princeton area, but we also have spots in California, Michigan, and Massachusetts.”

With his father, Wu has often played chess with senior citizens at a senior center in Ewing Township. His mission “is to spread the game for younger students and senior citizens,” he said. “We want to bridge the gap by having the kids and seniors together. We’ve already done it once, and it was a success.”

The website lists the nonprofit’s activities and plans for the future.

Wu is looking for student volunteers and donations. “If anyone is interested in chess or community service or leadership, reach out,” he said. “We have so many opportunities and we need members. Our team is what drives us.”