He wants young kids to love chess as much as he does

‘Mr. Paul’ is re-upping his chess camp in Portsmouth next week

By Jim McGaw
Posted 8/2/23

PORTSMOUTH — Paul De Luca loves chess.

Known as “Mr. Paul” to his students, he’s been playing the game for “30 to 40 years” and has been teaching it to …

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He wants young kids to love chess as much as he does

‘Mr. Paul’ is re-upping his chess camp in Portsmouth next week


PORTSMOUTH — Paul De Luca loves chess.

Known as “Mr. Paul” to his students, he’s been playing the game for “30 to 40 years” and has been teaching it to children for more than a dozen.

His trainer was Sunil Weeramantry, a renowned Sri Lankan-born American chess player and chess author whose stepson is chess Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, a five-time U.S. chess champion and ranked as the 10th-highest-rated player in history. Mr. Paul proudly displays a photo of himself with both men.

A summer resident of Bristol, he’s taught chess at the private Sunshine State Academy in Hollywood, Fla. for the past six years. Chess is part of the curriculum there, just like math, English and science. He has a full curriculum and teaches 170 kids a week.

“It’s mostly Russian/Ukrainian kids, which is really unique, as I’m Italian. I’ve got 20 words in Russia,” he said. 

Mr. Paul thought he’d bring his love and knowledge of the game to Portsmouth this summer by way of a chess camp for ages 4-10 as part of the Portsmouth Recreation Department’s programming. 

It didn’t go as expected.

“I was set for 60 kids, four classes a day,” he said. “I thought I’d be overwhelmed. I had probably six, eight kids floating in here.”

He blamed the fact that he “sprung” the chess camp on Recreation Director Wendy Bulk in April, after she had already developed the summer camp program. In addition, the fact that his camp was located away from the other activities — first at Hathaway School, then the middle school — probably didn’t go over well with parents during pickup time, he said.

The camp ran Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for three weeks last month, ending on July 26. “It was a flop,” he acknowledged.

But he hasn’t given up. Mr. Paul is revitalizing the Monday-to-Wednesday camp starting next week, with sessions planned from 11 a.m. to noon on Aug. 7-9, Aug. 14-16, and Aug. 21-23. 

“I’m going to stay for August, because that heat down there (in Florida) … I don’t want to go back,” he joked.

Each camp will be held at the Leonard Brown House on Linden Lane, Glen Farm. Children don’t have to attend all sessions, Mr. Paul said, noting it’s common this time of the year for kids to be involved in other camps or activities.

In hopes of drumming up more interest in the camp this time around, he’s also hosting a presentation for parents from 2-3 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 5, at the Leonard Brown House.

“It’s about the benefits of chess for ages 4 through 10,” he said. “I think I need to stimulate the crowd … to take another bite of the apple. A lot of the parents, they don’t even play chess. That’s who I’m trying to engage.”

To register for either the camps or the presentation, e-mail Mr. Paul at chesslesson@yahoo.com.

Why chess matters

So how is chess beneficial for young kids?

“It helps with their focus and concentration. It builds confidence. It simplifies complex situations. And, what I’ve noticed also is, with a lot of the kids it helps them increase memory capacity,” he said.

He focuses on ages 4-10, he said, because the older kids already have opportunities to play through chess clubs or middle school programs. Portsmouth Middle School has a solid program, he said. 

“But there’s nothing for the little guys. I’m going after a specific niche. I got a wide fishing net and I’m trying to get the guppies that come by. I’m just prepping them and basically handing them off to that chess coach.”

Mr. Paul teaches Weeramantry’s system. “He’s really the granddaddy of this whole thing,” he said. 

He starts with a large teaching board imprinted with the names of all the pieces. After that the students graduate to smaller boards with no names — “big boy chess” as he calls it. Students also learn the “10 powerful moves,” a series of maneuvers taking the pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, etc., across the board.

“You take out those full-size pieces and say, ‘That’s your Army.’ When they hear ‘Army,’ they go crazy,” he said.

One of the great things about chess, Mr. Paul said, is that there really are no strict age brackets. 

“Your 5-year-old, your 10-year-old can play grandpa. Some of them are really good,” he said.

And if you’re a parent who doesn’t play, his students can teach you.

“Once the kids leave me, I want them to go home to play chess with their parents.”

For more information, e-mail Mr. Paul at chesslesson@yahoo.com.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.