Alexis Paredes, 16, has been playing chess since he was 7 years old. The game he has been playing with incessant fervor for nearly a decade has become the way he sees his life — any obstacle is defeatable.
Raised in Brooklyn, NY by Paraguayan parents who came to the U.S. to give their son a better life, the high school student made it his mission to not let them down. Paredes is featured in a documentary, “Brooklyn Castle,” which follows the stories of five low-income inner-city students at junior high school I.S. 318 — the school that has won the most national chess championships in the country for a decade. The documentary, which recently premiered in New York City and Los Angeles, will open in major cities this Friday.
“I started in first grade,” says Paredes about his introductory chess class at his elementary school, P.S. 31. “To me, chess was more than just a game, because the answers weren’t always direct. You have to solve the problems by yourself [and] get the position you want at the end. It’s not a matter of being right or wrong, but how you evaluate the position.”
Paredes was just 12 and in the 6th grade when filming officially started for “Brooklyn Castle.”
He says it was a bonding experience for him and the other chess students in the film, who would also see each other at chess club and tournaments.
“I feel chess has played an enormous role in my life,” says Paredes. “It’s helped me through problem solving and critical thinking. During a test, I’m able to evaluate myself. Through repetition, I’m able to get the answer I want at the end,” adds the chess enthusiast.
Paredes’ chess teacher and coach at I.S. 318, Elizabeth Spiegel, agrees about the benefit this critical thinking game gave the young scholar.
“Alexis was always a logical player, trying to find the correct move rather than the trickiest,” says Spiegel. “He pushes himself to work hard mentally when he’s playing.”
On average, Paredes spends two hours a day on practicing tactics online, followed by another hour or two of playing online, with no physical opponent.
“There is a chess club at my high school — it’s very competitive,” he says. “I’m immensely involved. I’m an assistant coach on the weekends. On some days I play, and some days I help go over the games of the other kids. It’s something I enjoy doing much more than a hobby. It’s a way of life for me.”
John Galvin, assistant principal and chess coordinator at I.S. 318 says his hard work in school and in chess will lead to an unlimited future for the student.
“Alexis is one of the hardest working and naturally brilliant kids in the history of our chess team,” says Galvin.
The 4.0 student is now a junior at Edward R. Murrow High School and is starting to consider colleges. He says he plans on going to Princeton or Harvard, and he has an interview with Princeton this month.
“The answers are never clear…it depends on how far you can see into the future and devise a plan,” says Paredes with a confidence which shows he’s more than sure of his next strategic move. “I actually plan on either being a lawyer or a stock market broker depending on the economy. It’s just something that I’ll be able to apply from chess – reasoning and having a plan – I’d be able to intertwine what I’ve learned.”