Detective Cookie's chess tournament inspires students, gives lessons in life

SEATTLE -- Seattle students tested their analytical thinking Tuesday, in a program started by a popular Seattle police officer.

Detective "Cookie" Bouldin started a chess club a decade ago with just three kids, even though she didn't like, or know how, to play chess herself.

Since then, she's learned how, and encourages kids and others to believe in themselves.

On Tuesday, she organized her 10th annual chess tournament, between Seattle's Van Asselt and South Shore elementary schools.

She says chess not only requires concentration, but also teaches you about the consequences of your actions, something she says kids can use in real life.

"They have come up to me and said, 'Detective Cookie, I'm smart!  Detective Cookie, I can play chess!  Detective Cookie, I can play with my uncle!'  I had a mother come to me in tears.  Tears came down her eyes, when she looked on the porch and saw her son playing chess with his uncle.  And the son was doing very good!"

She encourages kids never to let themselves get brainwashed, as she was, that they’re not smart enough to play.

Before starting the chess program, Detective Cookie started out with a community basketball game between police officers and older students.

The next year some kids who didn’t play told her, “We’re not all about basketball.  Let’s have a chess tournament.”

“I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I don’t know how to play chess.   I really don’t really like chess,’ “ she said.  “I was brainwashed to think that chess was for smart people and I’m not smart enough.

“Only about two people knew how to play chess.  The rest of the kids stood around and watched.”

So she applied for a grant from the police department, and started putting flyers on cars and going door-to-door, promoting her chess club.  She started the program at the Rainier Community Center and the Rainier Beach Library.

“I had the chess club for approximately three years and didn’t know how to play chess.  I had a chess instructor teaching the kids.

I would play kids, and move exactly the same piece they would move.

One day when a young child asked her to play chess, another boy, one of her best chess players, leaned over and whispered, “ “Don’t worry.  You can beat Detective Cookie.  Everybody beats Detective Cookie.”

“And I said, ‘No he didn’t!  He didn’t just call me out!’ ”

So she learned how to play from the American Foundation for Chess.

“I teach anti-violence here at the school,” she said.  “How to avoid drugs, consequences of your actions, how to avoid gangs.  After I finish that, we switch over to chess.  And I show with the chess board how your bad decisions have big consequences.  That chess board relates to the community.”

The reaction from kids, parents and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.

“And I’m finding from teachers, the kids are learning to concentrate.  They’re learning to maneuver in their daily life.”

Kids have even come back to her years later, to tell her they’re glad she helped them learn to play.

“I was at the south precinct of the Seattle Police Department.  And I saw a young recruit, a new officer, just in the learning stages with his training officer.  And I recognized this young man!  I recognized him from being a kid.  Then he came up to me and said, ‘Detective Cookie, I know you.  You taught me how to play chess!’  And I have a lot of kids who want to be police officers.  And that ‘s a dream for me, to see one of my students is a police officer now.”

The community will honor her by naming a small park after her, designed just for just playing chess.  Detective Cookie’s Chess Park will be at Rainier Avenue and S. Barton.  Two large metal king and queen metal chess pieces have already been installed at the park.