His head in his hands, Shonari Warren ponders his next move. He's lost his queen, a rook, a knight and several pawns, and the chess match -- his second of the day -- looks hopeless for him.
"Man, I made all the wrong moves," he moans. He toys with two white pawns and a bishop he won from his opponent. The game ends with five moves.
Shonari, 16, is an eighth-grader at the Baltimore Alternative Middle School. He was one of 75 students who competed yesterday in the third annual city public school chess tournament.
The tournament was held at the Maryland Insurance Group's auditorium in the 3900 block of Keswick Road. The best players from six city middle schools and 20 elementary schools participated in the tournament.
Chess is a game of tactics, daring and knowledge of complex positions that evolve on the board. Shonari started playing about nine months ago.
"This game makes you think. It's something to occupy my time. Last year, there wasn't much to occupy my time," Shonari said.
Last year, Shonari, who lives with his mother and grandmother in West Baltimore, was hooking school and hanging out. He wasn't thinking about his future and he "tried to have fun" most of the time.
In September, he was placed at the Baltimore Alternative Middle School -- a facility for students who have been suspended from regular schools for fighting and other serious disciplinary offenses.
Chess is part of the school's physical education program. Shonari showed natural talent for the game and quickly defeated other players at the school.
"I started beating the teachers and counselors. But some of them gave me a run for my money," Shonari said. "I like it as much as basketball now. I lose sometimes, but I can beat most people at school."
He plays about five times a week and he studies the game most evenings.
Nellie Hamwright, a teacher and chess coach at the alternative school, said chess teaches the students to think rather than to act impulsively or to rush their decisions.
"Chess is the game of life. You don't move unless you check," Ms. Hamwright said. "And if you do move, you have to be held accountable."
Aaron Wilburn, 14, of East Baltimore, learned chess after he was placed at the alternative school four months ago.
"This is a challenge. This is something you can get better at. I know I have," Aaron said. "You keep playing and you learn what it takes to win."
The students who competed in yesterday's tournament were the winners of earlier competitions held at city schools. A $2,500 grant from the Abell Foundation helped pay for the tournament.
Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, said he hopes to expand the role of chess in city schools.
"It represents a lot of educational qualities. It teaches them to think," Mr. Embry said.