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Doctor creates software to help kids "think like a king"

An Illinois internist developed a computer chess program system that is used at 1,700 schools nationwide.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Aug. 16, 2010

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Name: Stephen Lipschultz, MD

Specialty: Internal medicine with a focus on clinical nutrition

Location: Evanston, Ill.

Company: Food for Thought Software Inc., which produces the "Think Like a King" chess software system. A series of programs, available in school and home versions, teaches children the game through interactive workouts. As they progress, students can earn certificates, "thinking belts" and "thinking tags." Programs to help manage chess teams and clubs also are available (link).

Annual revenue: Dr. Lipschultz will not release these figures, but "Think Like a King" is used in more than 1,700 schools across the country and is the official scholastic software of the United States Chess Federation. Dr. Lipschultz also was named the 2009 Chess Educator of the Year by the University of Texas at Dallas.

Why he started the business: In the early 1990s, several events led Dr. Lipschultz to develop this software. After the release of the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer," about training a chess prodigy to be just like the American chess champion, interest increased in chess and how it might affect children's critical thinking skills. Computers were becoming a bigger part of everyday life, and Dr. Lipschultz said he recognized that they could be engaging learning tools for his three children. In addition, the parent-teacher organization of his children's school decided to organize a chess club, and he volunteered to help run it.

"I thought 15 or 20 children would show up. At the first meeting we had 50 children, and running the club became a huge task," he said.

Although several electronic versions of the game existed, he did not find one that taught the game in a way he felt engaged children and would work in a school club or team setting. He taught himself the software code necessary to create an electronic version, then contacted David MacEnulty to write the chess lessons. MacEnulty is the former director of program development for Chess-in-the-Schools in New York and was the inspiration for the movie "Knights of the South Bronx," which came out in 2005.

Although several electronic versions of the game existed, he did not find one that taught the game in a way he felt engaged children and would work in a school club or team setting. He taught himself the software code necessary to create an electronic version, and another expert wrote the chess lessons.

"I'm not much of a chess player myself. I reached my limits," Dr. Lipschultz said.

Why he keeps practicing: "The work I do is important. There's a need for what I do," he said.

Words of wisdom: "Think very hard before you go down a road, because you never know where it is going to lead you and how much time it will involve. The rewards are sometimes different from what you expect."

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