Diversity in Chess

Since the game of chess emerged in India some 1,500 years ago, it has always presented the possibility of an ideal level playing field: two sides of equal strength vie for control of sixty-four identical squares. But the road to equality and inclusion among its players has often proved difficult to navigate.

Until the recent advent of online play, mere access to the game was often reserved for the more privileged and institutional bias remains an issue to this day. But in the last few decades, the chess world has made progress toward a more equitable culture around the game, and chess programs for underserved populations flourish worldwide. 

Thinking Cup Games staunchly supports increased inclusion for players of all ages, races, nationalities, gender identities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday this year, we’d like to highlight some of the people, projects, and programs that have championed inclusion and diversity throughout the chess world.

  1. Charles Lawton

National chess master Charles Lawton, a professional since the early 1980s, once arrived at an Alabama chess tournament as the third-ranked player. Lawton, a Black Navy veteran from St. Louis, sat down to make the opening move in his first game of the tournament, only to be stopped immediately by the tournament director, who told him that the board was reserved for players only. Assuming Lawton was a spectator, the director called security and it was only after Lawton produced his ID and pointed to his name in the rankings that he was permitted to play.

charles lawton

Lawton, now known around the world as a powerful player and passionate advocate for bringing new players into the game, says experiences like his are sadly not uncommon for chess players of color. But Lawton has also witnessed something of a renaissance right on his home turf, the St. Louis Chess Club, wherein 2013 he described regularly seeing wide demographic diversity represented at tournaments.

2. Brooklyn Castle

Since 2000, Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, New York, has consistently fielded the best middle school chess team in the United States, and championed in-school chess lessons for more than 50% of their ~1,600 students.

Katie Dellamaggiorre’s award-winning 2012 documentary, Brooklyn Castle, shone an international spotlight on the incredible students and faculty behind I.S. 318’s chess program. Despite recession-induced budget cuts, the team’s students, many of whom are first-generation Americans living below the poverty line, have racked up over 24 national championship trophies in the last 22 years.

Rochelle Ballantyne, now 27, was a member of the I.S. 318 team and a prominent subject of Brooklyn Castle. In 2013, she told Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, “We were meant to break stereotypes. Chess isn’t something people are good at because of the color of their skin. We just really work very hard at it.”

The continued success of I.S. 318’s chess team is a testament to the students’ dedication and discipline, and a powerful reminder that chess should truly be anybody’s and everybody’s game.

3. Phiona Mutesi: Queen of Katwe

In 2012, as Brooklyn Castle premiered to critical acclaim, another unlikely champion emerged on the other side of the world in Kampala, Uganda. Born into extreme poverty, Phiona Mutesi dropped out of school at age nine to sell maize in the local market following the deaths of her father and sister. Five years later, in 2010, she represented Uganda at the 39th Chess Olympiad in Russia. Two years after that, Mutesi had won her third Ugandan national championship.

Phiona Mutesi

Mutesi’s remarkable journey was depicted in the 2016 film, Queen of Katwe, and compelled a legion of young players to begin learning the game. As educators, one of our highest priorities is to engender resilience and passion in our students, and Phiona Mutesi’s story is a constant source of inspiration in that pursuit.

4. Judit Polgar and the Global Chess Festival

Despite gains in racial, ethnic, and national diversity on the world chess stage, female-identifying chess players are still sorely underrepresented at the highest levels of the game. But Judit Polgar, a Hungarian Grandmaster and unarguably the finest female chess player in history, has spun her competitive success into a worldwide mission that makes chess more accessible to kids of every background.

Judit Polgar and the Global Chess Festival

Founded in 2007, Polgar’s Global Chess Festival aims “to share the beauty of chess with 5 million people by 2025,” through annual tournaments and family days hosted in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. The organization’s guiding principle of “promot[ing] the 1000 faces of chess” from all over the world, has made chess inclusive and fun for thousands of children and represents a powerful beacon of hope for the future of the game.

5. Kids are the Future

The key to ensuring an inclusive, equitable, diverse future for chess undoubtedly lies in making the game available to the youngest generation. This has been Thinking Cup Game’s mission from the beginning and it’s why we took care to create a multi-ethnic cast of characters for our signature learning product, Story Time Chess: The Game.

story time chess

But in no way are we alone in that goal and the chess world is changing because of it. Author Gary Allan Fine reports in his 2015 book, Players and Pawns: How Chess Builds Community and Culture, that at least 60% of the United States Chess Federation’s approximately 90,000 members are under the age of 14. 

Chess is now widely taught in schools around the world, notably in Armenia, which by many accounts boasts the strongest national chess education initiative on Earth. Over a dozen scientists and academics administer the program from Yeravan’s Chess Scientific Research Institute, serving hundreds of thousands of second- to fourth-graders since 2011.

kids playing chess

In 2020, FIDE, the governing body of competitive, international chess, announced a new format for the annual Chess Olympiad. That year, the tournament was held online, which promoted far greater inclusion for national teams that may have lacked the resources to travel internationally. In addition, half the members of each Olympiad team must now identify as female, and every team must include junior players.

This blog is by no means an exhaustive description of the chess world’s ever-changing demographics. We simply hope you’re able to find inspiration in some of these stories, all of which reinforce Martin Luther King, Jr.’s indelible challenge to complacency, written from a Birmingham jail cell in 1963:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Our work won’t end until the powerful cognitive benefits and pristine pleasure of playing chess are available to all kids, everywhere. We’ll continue to write educational, entertaining stories of perseverance and friendship that teach children to play chess and which demonstrate the limitless possibilities that a diverse, inclusive world can offer.


3 Reasons To Gift Tutorcarrot Classes for the Holidays

Holiday gift giving for kids often revolves around the latest trends, items that may not provide much, if any, long-term educational value. And while experiential gifts have become common for grown-ups, kids’ gifts are often limited to that which comes shrink wrapped or nestled in packing peanuts.

But we’d like to see that change this holiday season, which is why tutorcarrot is making class packages for Story Time Chess, Story Time Music, and Birchguard Quest available as gifts! For the first time ever, you can give the little ones in your life the gift of a life-enriching skill and the enjoyment of learning it in a fun, engaging, entertaining way.

Experiential gifts are having a moment this year, and tutorcarrot is here for it! Keep reading to see why our award-winning enrichment classes for ages three and up make amazing holiday gifts.

  1. The Weather Outside is Frightful

There’s nothing better than retreating to the warmth of a cozy couch and a mug of something steamy when Jack Frost comes nipping at your nose. But the limitations cold weather puts on kids’ activities present a perennial challenge for parents all over the world. 


Chess, music, and educational role-playing classes from tutorcarrot unleash kids’ imaginations and keep the winter blues at bay. Our top-flight team of tutors, many of whom are professional actors and storytellers outside of tutorcarrot, make their lessons come to life with humor, creativity, and interactive physical activities.

Know a parent who could use a hand keeping their kids stimulated and entertained this winter? Consider gifting tutorcarrot class packages this holiday season! 

  1. Anytime, Anywhere

Unlike traditional experiential gifts like in-person classes or tickets to a show, tutorcarrot classes are conducted online, through our proprietary, secure, and kid-friendly video conferencing platform. That means families can take advantage of these amazing resources no matter where they are!

Being separated from loved ones by distance or pandemic precautions can be an extraordinary hardship, especially around the holidays. But gifting online classes through tutorcarrot provides the kids in your life a weekly reminder that you’re thinking of them, and gives you all something to share the next time you’re together.

  1. Gifts That Keep On Giving

The holidays are when we reinvest in the most important things in our lives: family, community, and hope for the coming year.

At tutorcarrot, we believe in whole-child development, and each of our lesson offerings seeks to nourish kids far beyond their in-class experience. Our chess, music, and role-playing sessions also imbue students with important life skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and sportsmanship.

kids playing chess

Each and every tutorcarrot educator aims to inspire hours of at-home play and learning, even after class time ends, by filling children with a desire to continue playing chess, making music, and letting their creativity run wild.

So if there’s a young Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran in your life, give them the gift of their first songwriting experience with Story Time Music. If you know a youngster who loves to play games, Story Time Chess will open their eyes to the world’s greatest strategy game with fun, engaging stories. And for all the little adventurers out there, look no further than tutorcarrot’s incredible role-playing series, Birchguard Quest, where kids create their own characters and take them on an epic, magical journey.

Want to find out more? Head to our website to explore all of tutorcarrot’s incredible online classes, and make this a holiday season your family will never forget!


Tutorcarrot: So Much More Than Just Chess

When the founders of tutorcarrot first started teaching chess lessons to preschoolers over 10 years ago, everyone was skeptical. Three-year-olds? Playing chess? 

Chess isn’t for little kids, they said. Serious adults, sure. Hustlers in the park, you bet. Mensa types, reclusive geniuses? No question. But kids? You guys are crazy.

So how did we crack the code and do what no one thought was possible? With stories. By tying each chess piece to a quirky character with a unique and memorable backstory, even kids as young as three were able to absorb the rules and progress into learning strategy, openings, and more.

But chess isn’t all we teach at tutorcarrot. Our commitment to top-flight early childhood enrichment has led to the development of diverse class offerings in subjects that other education companies wouldn’t dare to try with the preschool set. But one thing hasn’t changed…

Everything we teach, we teach through stories and storytelling. Here’s a quick look at some of the incredible programs we offer besides Story Time Chess. 

Story Time Music

Set in bucolic Musiclandia, Story Time Music takes students on a fun, engaging journey of musical discovery. Students of our chess program will recognize the two main characters, Queen Bella and Allegra the Architect, whose adventures reveal the basic building blocks of music theory, ear training, and composition.

Those three areas of music education are usually reserved for secondary and post-secondary students. Rarely are they introduced to grade-schoolers and they’re almost never taught in early childhood. Story Time Music changes all that.

Through hilarious, highly interactive stories, tutorcarrot’s expert music educators help kids as young as three decipher musical notation, sight read sheet music, recognize pitches by ear, play instruments, and even write their own original songs.

With a supporting cast that includes Waltz the Dog, Harmony the Gorilla, and an ancient dinosaur music teacher named Rexanne, Story Time Music hits all the right notes. We even pair our rock-solid musical pedagogy with life-skills training, including executive function-boosting exercises and lessons in empathy and emotional intelligence.

Strike up the band today and click here to register your child for Story Time Music classes on 


Edu-Role Playing: Birchguard Quest

For years, early educators have recognized the importance of “pretend play” in whole child development, but no program specifically explored this powerfully beneficial play style… until now.

Introducing Birchguard Quest, tutorcarrot’s groundbreaking class that brings the fantasy role-playing format (think: “Slammers” and “Serpents”) to kids as young as four for the first time ever.

Our team of certified storytellers guides Birchguard Quest participants on an epic escapade through the magical Kingdom of Bircholde. Students start their journey as trainees who must work as a team to conquer a harrowing obstacle course and earn their places in the Birchguard, a noble order sworn to protect the kingdom against all foes.

Imaginations run wild in Birchguard Quest, as students begin by creating their own characters and choosing one of several special abilities. After that, they create the story with guidance from their tutors, and sharpen their critical thinking and social-emotional skills by coordinating actions and decisions with their teammates.

Birchguard Quest’s spellbinding storyline deftly introduces academic skills as well, including arithmetic, verbal development, vocabulary, and more. Kids have so much fun galavanting through this engrossing saga, they hardly notice that they’re learning at the same time.

Ready to sally forth? Click here to learn more and get your child’s quest started.

Coming Soon: Story Time Go

The ancient game of Go is perhaps the most complex and widely-played strategy game in the world. If you haven’t heard of it or don’t know much about it, that’s understandable, as it’s most popular in East Asia and doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in the United States.

Well, that’s about to change. In early 2022, tutorcarrot plans to launch a brand-new class called Story Time Go, which follows an intrepid space explorer named Captain Bella Dan as she rockets around the galaxy on her ship, Liberty 4. Along with her trusty robotic crewmates, Beep and Boop, Captain Bella Dan’s mission is to bring life and light to cold, dark planets where nothing grows.

In Story Time Go classes, students will learn how to place stones on a Go board, capture, make territory, and celebrate this challenging game alongside other kids their age, all while having a blast with our funny, captivating stories.

But they won’t just be learning about a game. They’ll hone their planning, problem solving, spatial awareness, task switching, and critical thinking skills. They’ll also solve puzzles and play mini-games that benefit both their cognitive and social-emotional development.

Countdown to blastoff by keeping your interstellar radio tuned to our social media channels. We can’t wait to take your kids on the cosmic adventure of a lifetime!

Coming Soon: Story Time Backgammon

Far away, in the mythical archipelago of Good Gammon, pirates, Vikings, and trickster spirits named Wind and Wave race each other across the high seas in our upcoming class series: Story Time Backgammon.

Slated to begin in mid-2022, Story Time Backgammon breaks the 5,000-year old game down to its core elements, taking children three and up on a fantastic voyage that transforms the traditional backgammon board into magical islands and colorful ports of call.

The story begins with King Chompus Wolfheart Chompusson, a Viking leader who’s desperate to leave his homeland of Dragonia and search for the fabled Isle of a Thousand Fruits. After building a ship in the image of a giant banana split, he soon runs into Pegglegra Sao, a young pirate captain who’s itching to make a name for herself and live up to her family’s vaunted pirating legacy.

Students will play along with the characters, assembling fleets of ships and learning to race, hit, and jump across the backgammon board. As they go, they’ll learn about probability, variance, risk-reward analysis, and more without even realizing it.

Keep a weather eye on the horizon, Story Time Backgammon will be pulling into port soon!

Coming Soon: More Story Time Chess

Thought we’d forgotten about good ol’ Story Time Chess? Quite the opposite! tutorcarrot’s industry-leading curriculum development team has been hard at work expanding our core chess classes into a total of six fantastic modules that take three-year-olds and up from basic piece movement rules to the intricacies of the endgame.

Within the next few months, all sixty of Story Time Chess’s award-winning lessons will be available on tutorcarrot. Students will duke it out in Chesslandia’s Great Pillow Fight, test their mettle in a giant spaghetti tug o’ war, invent a secret code for writing down their moves, embark on an epic scavenger hunt to learn powerful tactics, and complete their chess skill set by learning how to checkmate.

As always, none of these programs would be possible without our dedicated corps of expert tutors. Our tutors ensure that every student gets the attention they need and keep tutorcarrot classes fun, engaging, safe spaces for all. Each and every one of our tutors is specially trained in empathy-forward classroom management techniques that prioritize respect, fair play, and sportsmanship above all else.

kids playing chess

We’re so excited for you and your child to discover the magic of Story Time Music, Birchguard Quest, Story Time Go, Story Time Backgammon, and of course, Story Time Chess. Watch your inbox and social media feeds for more news about upcoming classes and special offers. 

tutorcarrot classes make excellent holiday gifts as well, free from the perils of delivery delays and porch piracy. Have a question? Head to our website or reach out directly at We’ll see you in class!

online learning

8 Benefits of Virtual Learning

Red light? Greenlight? However your webcam lets you know it’s open for business, they all have this in common: the ability to close the distance between isolated lives and bring the light of learning into new spaces around the world.

Over the past year-and-a-half, hundreds of millions of us have graced the (very) small screen for work, school, or recreation — whether or not we were ready for our big close-ups. Online learning can be particularly challenging, and the truth is that not every student who pivoted to online classes mid-pandemic had access to the resources, technology, or academic support necessary for sustained success in the virtual classroom.

Still, online learning can be extremely beneficial for students of all ages and learning styles. As a parent, knowing what those benefits are and how they work is the first step in taking advantage of them.

So what are the upsides of online education in 2021? Well, here are eight benefits of virtual learning that will help you unlock the full potential of remote classes for your kids!

  1. Unique, Flexible Programming

The advent of online learning has given parents and kids access to subjects and classes that were seldom available in traditional settings. For instance, TutorCarrot offers a Webby Award-winning chess program called Story Time Chess, which makes the game fun and accessible for ages three and up, all through the power of storytelling. For the young performers out there we’ve got Story Time Music, which uses fun, engaging stories to teach music theory, composition, and ear training. And for those who want to forge their own destiny, our tabletop-style role-playing series, Birchguard Quest, puts kids in the driver’s seat of a rollicking fantasy adventure that emphasizes creativity, problem-solving, and the craft of storytelling itself.

Like many remote education platforms, TutorCarrot prioritizes flexibility, offering a super wide range of class start times and a generous make-up policy. And we’re just one example of how amazingly diverse the range of online course offerings can be.

2. Diverse Classrooms Boost Achievement

Virtual learning services like TutorCarrot enroll students from all over the world, allowing children to form friendships that boost both their self-esteem and academic outcomes. In fact, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence showed that students in ethnically diverse learning environments earned better grades and were happier in school. Encouraging cross-cultural connections is something our tutors value deeply, and they facilitate those conversations in the safe, welcoming environment of the virtual classroom.

Because TutorCarrot students come from all walks of life, they’re privy to a special kind of bonding experience that’s usually reserved for older students and adults: coming together around a shared interest. Most early childhood friendships are dictated by geographic proximity; of course, such friendships are vitally important, but having another way to make friends through online classes helps kids develop their social skills in powerful new ways.

3. No Rush!

Every parent knows that a jam-packed after-school schedule can be a nightmare. Inclement weather, transit delays, and pandemic-related restrictions can further complicate even the best-laid plans.

Online learning offers a respite from the hectic rush, especially when it comes to after-school enrichments like those offered by TutorCarrot

One major advantage of virtual lessons is that travel time between home, school, and in-person appointments isn’t a factor, giving families breathing room between commitments and lightening the stress on over-extended parents.

4. Staying Involved Is Easier Than Ever

Since at least the 1970s, studies have linked active parental involvement in a child’s academics with higher levels of achievement and stronger social skills. More recently, a 2019 study of 163 preschoolers showed that the children of parents who reinforced classroom lessons at home scored consistently higher on standardized tests for preliteracy development.

At TutorCarrot, we place a premium on parent engagement, with research-backed tools like email updates after every lesson that help you boost your child’s progress in our online classes. That support system, combined with the convenience and transparency of a virtual lesson that takes place right in your home, means that parents can easily step into a more active role in their children’s academic enrichment.

5. Greater Accessibility

No chess club in your town? Can’t book the right music teacher? We hear you. Finding extracurricular activities that are a good fit for your child can be a Herculean task. That’s why we made online enrichment programs like Story Time Chess and Story Time Music available to everyone, everywhere. And with lower hourly costs than in-person classes, we’ve thrown open the doors to a wider range of prospective students than ever before.

Traditional, in-person classes are also limited by the school calendar, often pausing during breaks and vacations to the student’s detriment. But with virtual learning, you can keep your kids’ lessons going wherever your family roams. Stable routines support higher emotional well-being for preschoolers and early elementary students; now you can watch those benefits play out in real-time by taking your TutorCarrot lessons with you wherever you go.

6. Promotes Technical Aptitude

A 2019 survey from the Pew Research Center revealed considerable blind spots in American adults’ understanding of computer technology and the internet. These are vital competencies for academic achievement in the 21st century and virtual learning offers excellent opportunities for kids to develop their tech acumen.

When working with virtual learning platforms, students actively improve their aptitude with computers and mobile technology, but especially fun and engaging online classes like those offered by TutorCarrot take it one step further. Our students learn to associate the tech in their homes with educational activities and identify their devices as useful, flexible tools with uses beyond entertainment and recreation.

7. Virtual Learning May Be Better for Introverts

In her 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain maintains that while 30% to 50% of the population self-identifies as more introverted than extroverted, contemporary classrooms broadly favor extroverted students with their emphasis on clustered desk arrangements and group work. While Cain readily acknowledges the importance of collaborative projects, she argues that students who prefer to learn in relative solitude often struggle in traditional schools, which tend to view that preference as problematic.

Online learning offers unique advantages for students who thrive in the quieter confines of the home where they can relax and learn comfortably. Take classroom participation, for instance, widely understood to be a major driver of academic achievement, as shown by this 2010 study of Swedish schoolchildren. But speaking up in a brick-and-mortar classroom can be a huge hurdle for shyer, more sensitive kids.

TutorCarrot’s small class sizes and online format offer a safer, calmer educational environment that allows every student, regardless of where they fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum to learn, participate, and have fun.

8. It’s Great For Extroverts, Too!

You might be surprised to read that after the previous entry in this article, but it’s true! Just as virtual classrooms ease certain social pressures for introverts, extroverted students can flourish amid fewer distractions and social stimuli.

When her middle-school science class turned to remote learning during the pandemic, one teacher noticed a marked improvement in the academic performance of a particularly disruptive “class clown.” Less social stimulation offered that student a chance to focus on his studies, without losing touch with his friends and classmates. TutorCarrot’s expert teaching staff understand this dynamic and specialize in tailoring the learning experience to a wide range of learning styles.

Online learning in some form or another is here to stay and it’s not unlikely that almost every young person, wherever they are in their academic journey, will encounter it at some point. The current generation of educators is becoming more adept every day at navigating the challenges of remote learning while developing more ways to maximize its benefits for all students.

In that same spirit, TutorCarrot is committed to offering every family access to world-class enrichment programs such as Story Time Chess, Story Time Music, and Birchguard Quest. Find out more and get started today by exploring our online courses for ages three and up!