Chess is Cool at Marengo

Enthusiastic arms shot up in unison with muffled “Oh, oh, oh’s” in a thick crowd of third to fifth graders at Marengo Elementary School. You would’ve thought someone was giving away the latest game consul on the market; but no, this was chess.

Tom Eilers challenges chess player.

Nearly 60 boys and girls, heavy on boys by just a little, participate every Thursday after school for an hour of masked learning (education via fun) through lessons, one-on-one chess play, creative team chess, and deciphering original chess puzzles created by volunteer chess coach, Tom Eilers.

Marengo’s chess club is a free activity for the children, made possible by wish night donations that help toward buying the necessary chess sets and learning tools.

Lisa Robinson (third grade teacher, member of the Marengo family for 19 years, and teacher for 26 years) is in her 13th straight year as the club’s advisor. “This helps me keep in touch with the kids and have fun.”

Robinson, Eilers and Sandra Moore (who has since moved away) started the chess club in 1999. Then, Eilers had two children at Marengo. Now he volunteers for the pure fun of it.

Though Eilers took a break from the club for several years, he has been back in full force for the past 2 ½ years, starting a chess club in neighboring Alhambra, organizing chess tournaments, tutoring in chess, and teaching chess at Mathnasium in South Pasadena on Saturdays. Not to mention, he also has a non-related full-time job.

When discussing the countless hours Eilers puts into helping children with chess and hundreds of puzzles he joyfully makes to challenge players, he couldn’t help but joke, “My wife thinks I’m a little obsessed.”

Robinson especially relishes in being a part of the club because “There are kids who do sports and kids who don’t. They come here and they’re equals. There’s no pressure to be a chess genius… The kids are wonderful!”

Chess club is a stimulating place to be. And it’s not easy to keep 60+ elementary-aged children engaged for an hour when they’ve already had a long school day and hunger pangs begin to set in after 2:45 PM.

But somehow, Robinson and Eilers along with other volunteers (parents, an occasional middle school student and high school students who can even receive ROP credit) come in, encourage, teach, and get the job done with fun at the core.

When asked about why he volunteers, John Tashiro, parent of two boys in chess club and faithful chess club volunteer said, “[Chess] makes these kids think ahead, anticipate more, and strategize… I like watching these kids grow and see how they think.”

In the background, teams of chess players cheer and give each other high 5’s as if their team just won the super bowl. A smile and some chuckles escape an on-looking parent. His kids are enjoying chess.

At the end of the day, Eilers reflects on his time with the young chess enthusiasts, “I can’t think of a better way to spend my time, making kids happy while they learn.”

And simply put, the bottom line is emphasized by third grader, Zoe Albornoz, “It’s really fun!”

If you are interested in having your K-8th grader join-in a chess party and tournament save the following Saturdays: February 25 (for K-3rd grade) 2-4 PM or 4:30-6:30 PM; March 3 (for 4th-8th grade) 4-6:30 PM; March 10 (for K-8th grade) 2-6:30 PM. There is a $12 entry fee for each session, with trophies and prizes for all.

To register for and for more information on chess tournaments and classes, contact Tom Eilers at or (626) 375-5135.


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