Chess is life, and life is chess in El Paso, Texas, the unpretentious setting for an inspiring, true story.
As told to Seidlitz through hours of interviews, Ramirez’s account is a movie-ready narrative about how he—a scrappy, dauntless Henderson Middle School art teacher—took a dozen students, most from underprivileged or lower-income backgrounds, to the 2015 National Chess Tournament and won. Readers are introduced to 12 Mexican-American and Mexican players who not only choose to learn chess, but are determined to compete. “Mister,” as his students fondly call him, cleverly relates life’s lessons to chess strategies: protect the king (oneself); cherish your queen (practice proper etiquette and good manners); control your center (or emotions and actions); know when to walk away; and don’t judge by appearances. Nuggets of Spanish are intertwined, accurately evoking the border’s Tex-Mex sound; translations are efficiently offered as footnotes. While the kids are the stars, it is Mister’s coaching and preparation that motivate his players; he believes that race and economic status have nothing to do with what a person is capable of accomplishing. It is not smooth sailing all the way, which makes the journey all the more endearing. More than anything, Mister’s account is a love letter to these students, to chess, and to El Paso.
Accessible for all readers, this story is a natural for the big screen: check and mate. (appendix, afterword) (Nonfiction. 12-16)