Copyright 1999 by the Chicago Tribune)
Dr. Steve Lipschultz's North suburban medical practice involves providing nutrition to desperately ill patients, which, he acknowledged in an interview, can be pretty grim.
His other passion involves using computers to teach grade school kids the game of chess, which, he said with a smile, can be pretty joyful.
"It brings exactly the balance I need," said Lipschultz, whose approach to computers and chess is, indeed, a balancing act with much to teach everybody about children and technology.
With Lipschultz's unique approach to computers and school chess the balance is struck between a child's clamoring for video games and a teacher's need to meet an already overfilled class schedule and still find time to administer the nuts and bolts of another demanding activity--running a school chess club.
Let Lipschultz tell you in his own words why he dreams of using computer technology to smooth the way to get teachers to take on chess club sponsorship and why he wants, above all, to get school children to use their modern school computer labs to learn the ancient board game that Borgia princes shared with Bolshevik peasants:
"Look at what getting into a chess club and playing in tournaments has to teach young people. They learn first to behave. Then they learn to concentrate.
"They learn that winning is the result of planning, strategy and resolve.
"They learn that critical thinking is the path to getting what they want in life. They learn cooperation and self-reliance. And they walk away with self-esteem.
"I have been at meets where there are 800 kids playing in an auditorium for 3 hours and you could hear a pin drop."
Lipschultz is not promoting another computerized chess game.
These already abound. Chessmaster 6000 by the Learning Company is a $40 box of magic that not only lets a player go up against a computer but also emulates the playing style of opponents as diverse as a rank neophyte and a whole library of Grand Masters.
Lipschultz's quest is to get youngsters to learn enough about this complex, challenging, motivating mental game so that they would even want to fire up Chessmaster 6000 in the first place.
An avid amateur Macintosh-oriented computer programmer, Lipschultz spends his spare time attacking the challenge of creating and then motivating young chess players with a computer strategy he calls "Think Like a King."
The result is a rigorous but realistic software package designed for setting up a school chess club and teaching the students the fine points of the game of Robert James "Bobby" Fisher, Boris Vasiliyevich Spassky and Garry Kasparov.
Priced at roughly $300 for a whole school's worth of licenses and materials, the software's two central modules are split about evenly between handling the administrative details of setting up and running a chess club and teaching the children who join the intricacies of moves like forks and skewers and end games that they will need in competition.
To learn these moves and dozens of others and to practice them in detail students use a game-like animated module called Chess Workouts that can either be run on machines at school or taken home for practice in earnest.
In my own tests of the workout game on a Mac, I learned more about my own end game than ever before. I had to drag myself away, in fact, to write this column.
Lipschultz created the software using Mac's unique and easy programming tools like HyperCard and SuperCard and then hired some hard core code warriors to port it to the PC world.
Think Like a King has the seal of approval of the U.S. Chess Federation and automatically records scores using the federation's point rating system. It likewise facilitates setting up school chess teams along the lines and divisions sanctioned for federation matches.
The core software is Chess Club Manager, software that takes most of the work out of organizing a club, ranking players as they compete, keeping roll at meetings and even printing out certificates of merit on special parchment paper in fancy fonts to motivate.
The club manager is very heavy on motivation, with features that allow a sponsor to print and hand out certificates for far more accomplishments than just winning matches.
"The software can be set up so every member of the club has something to feel good about," said Lipschultz. "You can give out certificates for perfect attendance or for outstanding effort or even for being popular. Or, if your teaching style is more hard line, you can make things tougher.
"It's all about motivation. We're teachers, not chess masters," Lipschultz said of himself and those who use his software.
Check Lipschultz and company out at www.schoolchess.com. They'll teach your kids how to Think Like a King.
Binary Beat readers can participate in the column at chicagotribune.com/go/askjim or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail- mail him in Room 400, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611.