ChessMaine Interviews: Seth Yentes
05.07.08 Former Maine elementary and junior high school chess champion Seth Yentes is the new chess coach at the Toddy Pond School in Swanville, Maine. In addition to teaching chess he also teaches cello, is a self-proclaimed "passionate orchardist" and is running for the Maine House of Representatives District 42 seat. We ran into Seth at the state scholastic team championship and asked him about his aspirations in both chess and political spheres.
ChessMaine: I ran into a coach at the scholastic championships recently who commented that it was nice to see some former players (referring to you and Cullen Edes—an Orono player now coaching in Veazie) giving back to the chess community. You’re now the coach at the Toddy Pond School, can you tell us how this came about?
Seth Yentes: I decided to be the chess coach at Toddy Pond School after being asked by a student’s parent. I teach private cello lessons and a cello student of mine Cori Shooter goes to Toddy Pond. One day her mother asked me if I would be interested in teaching chess. I thought about it for a while and decided to give it a try.
CM: What grades do you teach, how did your team shape up this year and what methods do you find helpful when teaching kids chess?
SY: I teach pre K through 8th grade. I have three classes during the day, the first is the oldest group then the middle age group and the last class is the youngest. Our team shaped up very well this year. We had six players at the state chess tournament. The students took first place in the K-6 and K-8 novice divisions. Hila Shooter was the highest scoring player in the K-8 and Cori Shooter was the highest scoring player in the K-6. I try and teach the students how to be solid players. I like my students to notate and take their time during the game. I found that when my players notated at the tournament they played much better games and it made them really focused. The way I teach each age group varies. I start with the oldest class with a few chess problems and then we go over openings or end game positions. And we usually end with a good old game of chess.
CM: Do you use or would you recommend any specific books or software that you find effective with your students?
CM: What were some of your first experiences in chess? How old were you when you learned the moves and who was your first teacher?
SY: My first teacher was Michael Schaab. I joined the Toddy Pond chess club when I was around seven. And that was where I learned how to play.
CM: You were Maine’s Elementary Champion in 1998 and Junior High Champion in 2000. Can you revisit these years for us? Who influenced you and to what did you owe your success?
SY: I remember my last game at the 1998 tournament when I was playing Nicholas (I don’t remember his last name) and the adrenalin was pulsing through my body. Nicholas had been the state champion the year before and I had my doubts about winning. We sat down and it was a fight until the end.
Some influences that made me a solid player were growing up in a family that had four of us kids who were all good chess players. We would play games and you would never know who would win until the game was over. I think that Mike was the greatest influence in my chess playing. He always taught us to be “cool as a cucumber” and stay as relaxed in the game as we could. He was never a flashy player but he was solid and I think he taught us how to be a solid player and to never give up.
CM: At that time which schools were you attending?
SY: I was a student at Toddy Pond School in 1998 and I was home schooled in 2000
CM: Did you continue to play competitive chess through high school and college?
SY: I played some chess in high school but it was hard to get enough players together to compete in the team tournament. We didn’t really have a chess coach which made it hard to have much motivation.
CM: Were there any coaches or players (either local, national or international) who had an impact on you and your chess?
SY: I think Mike Schaab is at the top of the list as far as coaches. After that my parents support was huge. On an international level I admired Bruce Pandolfini.
CM: Do you have a player whose style you would like to emulate—a “chess hero”?
SY: Not really
CM: You had a consistent decade of scholastic tournament chess from 1994 – 2004. Is there any chance you would now participate in adult open tournaments?
SY: Right now I don’t have the time but I always enjoy a good game of chess and I hope someday to play in open tournaments.
CM: I understand you are making a run for the Maine House of Representatives. What has motivated you at this point in your life to seek public office?
SY: I would have never considered running but the day after Christmas I was at our local blood drive and saw Mike Schaab and he suggested that I run for the State House of Representatives. I was still not convinced that it was the right time to run but after talking to family and friends I decided to put my hat into the race. I have always been involved in politics through helping on different campaigns and I have tried to think about how my life impacted people around me and all over the world. I think the biggest motivation is that I want to make a difference in people’s lives. I think we have a lot of challenges ahead. I want to bring a perspective to Augusta that will think about the current challenges on the state level while thinking about the generations to come.
CM: Which communities would you represent if elected and what are some of the most important issues for you?
SY: I am running in district #42 which includes Brooks, Jackson, Monroe, Swanville, Waldo, and Winterport. I want to see more affordable healthcare, I want to strengthen our economy through supporting small business and local farms, and I think we need to focus more attention on the environment. We need to think about the future generations. Encouraging renewable energy and increasing efficiency is critical in making a better tomorrow.
CM: How has chess impacted your life? Do you feel that you learned lessons from chess that you can now apply in life?
SY: I think chess has impacted my life in many ways. Some of the things it has taught me are how to stay calm under pressure, how to think ahead, and how to logically think about life. I am a passionate orchardist and I started planting fruit trees when I was fourteen. I had to clear the land, graft the trees and plant them all with the knowledge that it would be many years before I would see the “fruits” of my labor. I believe that having the skill of looking ahead in the game of chess made it possible to think ahead and plant my orchard. I now have over forty varieties of apples and a large variety of cherries, plums, pears, and more. I love chess and I think that more children should have the opportunity to learn the game.
CM: Seth Yentes, it was a pleasure speaking with you. I wish you all the best in your efforts—both political and chessical.
SY: Thank you, I enjoyed speaking with you as well.