It is her first day of chess. Or, "chest" as she calls it..

Cece Kelly, who wishes she were already 9, has arrived early for the 6 p.m. class at the Sorenson Multi-Purpose Center in Glendale. Cece hangs out a lot at the center, looking for something to do."Chess looks just like checkers," Cece tells the man who is standing over a line of chessboards, laying out the pieces one at a time.

"No," says Vincent Bazemore, "chess is harder. It's more of a thinking game," he tells her. "It's so hard it's sort of like working out."

Although the class won't start for 20 more minutes, Cece wants to know what the pieces are called. Pawn, rook, knight, bishop, king, queen. "I know," says Cece, pointing to the king and then the queen, "he's stronger than her."

"No," Bazemore tells her, "women are always stronger than men."

And chess is always about more than just moving chess pieces across some colored squares, which is why Bazemore is here this evening at the Multi-Cultural Center.

He can remember the first chess game he ever saw. It was in the Virgin Islands, in the library of his high school. He saw some kids hunched over a board and stopped to watch. "I was too embarrassed to ask them to teach me, so I checked out a book on chess," he says. You picture a bashful little teenager, too shy to ask for help. But then you glance up at Vincent Bazemore and can see his relaxed, confident face and his husky shoulders.

You don't hear the rest of the story till later, after a little boy named Jason drops into the chess room at the Multi-Cultural Center but gets up and runs out after a few minutes.

"Jason has a twin brother and peers who give him grief" about playing chess, says Bazemore. He suspects that Jason has run out to join his friends on the basketball court across the hall.

And then Bazemore tells you that among his own high school peers, and even in his family, no one ever knew that he had learned to play chess. "I kept it a secret, because I had an image to keep up. I was kind of the school bully."

After high school he joined the Army, and after the Army he moved to Utah, where he is now, at 23, enrolled at the University of Utah in sociology. Last fall he signed up with Americorps, the national service program, which hired him to teach children chess, at the Sorenson Center and at Whittier Elementary among other venues.

There are hundreds of Utah children who play chess, but it could be argued that Bazemore's clientele is among the most challenging -- often wiggly, distracted, and complete strangers to the game. But also, perhaps, the most ready to be changed by chess.

In chess circles these days, people are talking about a study published in the magazine "Chess Life." It followed the academic progress of non-honors elementary school students who participated in school chess clubs.

The students, who attended one of four schools in middle class and affluent neighborhoods in suburban Houston, showed twice the improvement in reading and math testing than non-chessplayers at the same schools.

Tested first in the third grade and later in the fifth (the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test), the chessplayers scored 4.3 points higher in reading and 6.4 points higher in math. "Regular students" -- neither gifted nor in special education -- showed the most improvement.

It's too early to tell if Bazemore's instruction and coaching will change any lives. But certainly that would make sense.

"What I like about chess," says psychiatrist Michael McIntosh, "is that it really teaches kids to think long-term" McIntosh's own children play chess, and two of them participated in the state K-6 chess tournament last month at the University of Utah.

"Chess teaches them that what they do in the short run has important implications in the long run. When you analyze a chess puzzle, for instance, you have to calculate a number of alternatives. You have to think through it, beyond the first impulses."

Not a bad life skill to learn, McIntosh adds.

At the Sorenson Multi-Cultural Center it is easy to imagine the effect of first impulses. The center sits in an area of Glendale that has more than the usual Utah share of poverty, gang influence, crime and broken families, says the center's community outreach coordinator, Jaime Steren.

At Whittier Elementary, where Bazemore coaches chess every afternoon after school, the students who participate in tournaments are typically those whose parents show an interest and are willing to drive them somewhere for a game of chess, he says.

For the children who attend the Multi-Cultural Center, "it's likely home is not a happy place for many of them," says Steren.

On the chess board, on the other hand, life is both comfortably predictable and engaging. An 8-year-old girl who could learn to play chess might find a different way of moving through the world.

Bazemore goes over the names of the pieces again and shows the students how to move them across the board. A patient, unflappable man, Bazemore drills the children until they get it right. High-fives are exchanged all around.

As he explains the pieces, yet again, to a new child who has just wandered into the room, Cece interrupts. "You forgot to say something," she tells him triumphantly, holding up a plastic shape wearing a crown. "The queen is more powerful than the king!"