CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – The game of chess. It’s a game of strategy, focus, and a game full of lessons.

It’s also a game that has seen a rise in interested players over the last few years.

“With the Queen’s Gambit, with the pandemic forcing people to find new avenues of entertainment, a lot of people rekindled their love for chess or just found chess and fell in love with it,” Alejandro Ramirez, a chess grandmaster, said.

Ramirez said he’s enjoyed watching people fall in love with the game of chess.

“It’s been all kinds of chess players that are either coming back into chess or loving chess for the first time and becoming absolutely hooked into it,” he said.

And he’s not the only one who loves to watch people get into the game.

“It’s great when you see someone who has a genuine interest in a game and you see them progress and as they progress, they’re learning new things,” Eduardo Carillo, with Business Elevator, said.

For him, it’s about more than just the sport of chess.

“It gives you something inside because you like, you’re sharing a part of yourself with someone,” he said.

That’s why they’re bringing chess to the champaign community but it’s not your typical chess game.

“It has all the moves it teaches. It’s a mind exercise game. And this is why we wanted to implement this back with the youth, especially among the black males. So, it makes them long-term think. Which is what our goal is to get from this game,” James “Tygar” Corbins said.

It’s more than just teaching where the pawns move, and how to win a game. It’s about life lessons.

“What we’re seeing now, especially with the youth, a lot of them get distracted real fast and then they get off of their goals and off of their mission, and that takes them in the other area. You know, they drift into other areas and that’s dangerous. So, now with this mind exercise game, what we want to do is teach them how to stay focused,” he said.

They said it’s the game within the game, and Tygar said if you want to learn about chess and life, Carillo is the one to go to.

“If you work with Eddie, you gonna have to improve because Eddie is one of the best. Eddie will beat you relentlessly on this board,” he said.

So where did he learn how to play like this?

“I wound up getting incarcerated in 1997 at the age of 17 and I spent 24 years and two months in prison and there were a lot of people getting into mischief inside. In jail, you can either go to school, lift weights, work jobs, play chess, different games. There are different ways of channeling your energy,” he said. “And so an older fellow said, come over here. He didn’t want me to get in trouble. He really made me focus. I said I’m not sure if I really want to learn. He would say come and sit down and so we talked. He spoke on life as he taught me the game and I didn’t realize that I was learning two lessons at the same time.”

Lessons that helped him through his time in jail, helped him focus on his goals and get his GED, and now, lessons he wants to make sure others get too.

“I’m hoping that not only will they take away learning a priceless game, but a different way of thinking. Always keep your eyes open, see your opportunities where you can seize them, you know because they will help you in life,” he said. “So, I’m hoping that they’ll take away a bunch of different lessons, you know, and different views. But I just hope that I can reach them in certain ways to help them in their life and their journey ahead.”

So, that’s why if you see a group at Hedge Pop! Park in Champaign, playing chess, and listening to 90’s R&B it’s about so much more than just that moment. It’s about life.

“It’s a never ending thing. If one chooses to pass it on, it can be passed on and it can just keep going and going and it can be a beautiful thing,” Carillo said.

Every Monday starting at 4:30 at Hedge Pop! Park you can find Carillo, Tygar, and others from Business Elevator playing chess and talking about life.