This Pittsburgh teen is launching a chess conference with a civic twist

Her nonprofit wants young people to think about the game as a way to create change.

Edith Soto / flickr
MJ Slaby

Ashley Lynn Priore, an 18-year-old chess teacher, said she usually explains game-ending checkmates as creating “a box so the king is trapped.”

But a second-grader once asked her, “What if the other pieces are chasing the king to get him in a corner?”

There’s always a new way to look at it, said the high school senior, who started playing chess at age 4.

In 2014, she created The Queen’s Gambit Chess Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to giving children access to chess lessons, as well as its educational and social benefits.

The institute will hold its inaugural Pittsburgh Chess Conference on June 1 and 2 in Oakland, featuring two days of tournaments — with a civic twist: Priore invited local politicians to meet with students.

At the conference, which will host up to 150 people, players will be able to talk with the local leaders about their ideas for change and learn that public officials aren’t off limits. The conference is free and open to the public, but the deadline to register is May 31. Attendees can make donations to The Queen’s Gambit at the event.

“They should have relationships with these people,” she said, adding that she’s invited Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and city council member Erika Strassburger, as well as Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Priore believes chess can bring families together and shows kids to think creatively — that’s something she’s passionate about.

At TEDxPittsburgh next month, she’ll talk about creating economic and political change through chess, whether that’s by applying strategy to other areas of life or using it as a common interest to bring people together.

“There are a lot of things I love about [chess],” she said, adding that the elements of the game — strategy, thinking ahead, the scientific and creative sides — impact how she looks at life. “I think chess and life are so connected.”

Growing up, Priore practiced math skills through chess. As a senior at The Ellis School, she said chess has helped her determine different approaches to studying and learning.

The Queen’s Gambit

Priore learned to play by watching her dad and three older siblings in their Oakland home, and later, the four kids competed in tournaments.

At age 8, Priore started teaching chess at the library and school.

By the time she was a freshman, she started working on a business plan and realized “this can be a big deal for me.”

And so she created The Queen’s Gambit, which now includes three additional youth instructors — the youngest in eighth grade — and teaches at more than 50 locations after school and on weekends.

“People want to learn chess, but they don’t know where to start,” she said, adding that while her focus is K-12, students take the game home and teach their parents, too.

Paying for chess lessons can be expensive, Priore said, adding that she’s made a point to offer free classes at places like the Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Community Forge in Wilkinsburg and more. The Queen’s Gambit also teaches at Pittsburgh Public Schools and other Carnegie Libraries.

Both individual lessons and group sessions are offered, some weekly or twice a week, while others are less often. The group’s typical charge is $20 per hour for a private lesson, but also offers need-based discounts and free classes. See more information and a schedule of classes here.

After Ellis graduation, Priore will attend the University of Pittsburgh and said she’ll keep her nonprofit growing. Plans include more staff and, hopefully, a permanent Oakland location.

Going to college means more flexibility to work on The Queen’s Gambit during the day between her classes, she said.

“I’m excited to plan my schedule and make my own fit.”