Central High School 11th-grade student Joe Li carefully weighed his moves as he navigated rooks and bishops around the chessboard. As time wore on, Li's calculations paid off as he placed his opponent in checkmate.
"Planning ahead is how to be a good chess player," said Li, who won his third-place match Wednesday in the Philadelphia Scholastic Chess League City Championships.
Li was among 60 students who competed in the championship at the Phillies Diamond Club in Citizens Bank Park.
"We feel this is a fitting venue for the best and brightest players," said Justin Ennis, who hosted the event as executive director of After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP). Chess helps students develop strategic-thinking and problem-solving skills, Ennis said.
The organization is a nonprofit dedicated to providing after-school activities to Philadelphia youths.
"Our slogan is, what happens after graduation starts with what happens after school," said Marciene S. Mattleman, president and founder of ASAP.
Ronald Spencer, coach of the George Washington High School chess team, said chess helps students "stay focused for longer periods of time."
A recent ASAP-commissioned study found that its chess students in fifth grade performed better in math and reading and had fewer school absences than a fifth-grade group not affiliated with ASAP chess.
ASAP volunteer Amanda Robinson, 17, who graduated early from Franklin Learning Center last year, said chess changed her life for the better.
"My life hasn't always been the best, so being involved with chess has been a way out," said Robinson, who was serving as a mentor for Sheppard School students.
In the 10-week chess season, 74 K-12 teams participated, and 12 of those advanced to the championship round. The schools in the championships were Washington High, Carver High of Engineering and Science, Preparatory Charter, Central High, Baldi Middle, Russell Byers Charter, Overbrook Educational Center, Maritime Academy Charter, Sheppard Elementary, Mitchell Elementary, and Blankenburg elementary and middle school teams.
First-place winners were Carver for high schools, Blankenburg for middle schools, and Byers for elementary schools.
Phillies pitchers Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay spoke in an ASAP video last year on how the game inspires strategic thinking.
ASAP will sponsor 100 city youths, including many from Wednesday's competition, to compete at the Pennsylvania Scholastic Chess State Championships at Carlisle this weekend.