Croce runs the Hudson County Chess Association and works with kids in towns including Hoboken, Jersey City, West New York, Weehawken, and Union City.
Roughly 400 students from around the state competed in The New Jersey Grade Championship on Sunday, Nov. 22 at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft.
The annual tournament decides the state champions in each grade level, awarding trophies and medals to teams and individuals in different brackets.
Several of Croce’s teams took home medals and trophies, including the Waldo School kindergarten team in Jersey City, which consisted of Anay Surana, Sohil Shah, Yatharth Gupta, Hridhaan Mody Aanika Varshneya, and Zara Singh and the The Waldo School second grade team and kindergarten team which consisted of Sid Sood, Sid Mirchandan, Ashwin Kannan, and Aditya Kannan.
His Hamilton Park Montessori Kindergarten team from Jersey City also won and it consisted of Yohan Agarwal and Artarv Sharma.
Croce’s individual students were also winners including First grade champions Arav Gollapally and Akhil Velampalli.
“I am so proud of these kids,” said Croce. “It is truly amazing. To see their faces light up at the end of the tournament when they each won was amazing.”
Meet the teacher
Croce began teaching chess and running chess clubs in 2000 after he was playing in the park one day and a little boy asked to join him.
“I asked do you know how to play and he said yes and moved a piece,” said Croce. “He didn’t know but after a couple of hours he was making moves correctly and understanding.”
Since that boy in the park Croce started the Hoboken Chess Club, teaching students after school. Now he has expanded to towns across Hudson County hosting education sessions on chess, lessons both individual and group, in schools and in public places.
Croce teaches people of all ages but most of his students are younger between preschool and fourth grade as when kids get older they tend to join organized sports and have a harder schoolwork load.
He said he has about 300 students and most are from Jersey City and Hoboken.
“Most of my students are from Jersey City and Hoboken these days but I’ve held groups in Weehawken and West New York and Union City,” said Croce. “Mostly my biggest groups are at the Newport Mall food court, The Panera Bread in Hoboken on Washington Street, and I also teach chess at two schools in Jersey City; the Waldo School and the Hamilton Park Montessori School.”
Croce often meets students in public venues and eateries. According to the website, he meets students in West New York at the 62nd Street and Bergenline Burger King, as well as in Weehawken at the Subway restaurant at the Pathmark Mall at 41st Street and Park Avenue.
Croce said he also meets at the Burger King on 34th Street and Bergenline in Union City.
It’s not about the win
“Chess is all about cognitive thinking,” said Croce. “It teaches problem solving and sportsmanship and competitiveness and fun.”
He said Chess is fantastic because people of all ages can play it.
“It is one of the most popular games in the world because anyone cane play it. When you’re young in kindergarten you can’t play sports yet and when you’re old it can be harder on the body to play basketball or something like you used to but chess you can play forever. I’m 63 and still playing chess,” said Croce. “Everyone who ever plays and learns chess falls in love with it.”
He said he doesn’t teach his students about winning or losing or place any pressure on them to win but rather focuses on passion for the game and teaching techniques to make them better chess players.
“I work hard at this because I love it,” said Croce. “When you are passionate about something it’s easy. With my students I never mention the importance of winning it’s all about working hard and taking the game seriously but to have fun with it.”
His students who wish to compete are currently preparing for their next chess tournament, which will take place at Zeppelin Hall at 88 Liberty View drive at 12 p.m. on Dec. 16.
He said his students prepare through practice.
“I always tell them to play somebody better then them whether they are their same age, younger than them, or older than them,” said Croce. “I don’t look at my students as a six year old I look at them as a chess player and that’s what I tell my students to do.”
Croce said that students pay a minimal feed and he works with parents on what they can afford.
For more information on the Hudson County Chess Association Inc. email Croce at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com.