Founded in the Spring of 2010, and reincorporated as a 501c3 not-for-profit organization in 2012, Learners Chess Academy is an educational program with the mission to enhance child development by using the game of chess to promote and stimulate intellectual maturity, social skills, and leadership development. Our vision is a world where all kids have the opportunity to grow through learning the game of chess.
We do not just teach kids chess, we teach them to learn by compassionately leading them through the process of paying attention and drawing on their experiences. Furthermore, we teach leadership development skills to encourage players to communicate and to teach each other what they know and how they learn.
Our coaches are educators, activists, farmers, chess education enthusiasts, parents, students, and leaders.
We recruit instructors who are passionate about the ways that chess improves kids’ classroom performance and social development.
Victor Francisco Lopez, Founder and Executive Director
Coach Victor founded Learners Chess Academy in 2010 as a summer job/ side project. It has since grown into a large and beloved non-profit organization.
Having taught chess since he was 12 years old, Victor has cultivated a passion for teaching and coaching chess, mindfulness, reasoning, life, success, and leadership skills while working with kids and young adults.
Starting in 1998, with the help of his previous elementary school Principal, Nikki Dennis, and his mother, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, he started the Bandelier Elementary School Chess Club. He was in 7th grade at the time. As he and his mom continued to lead the Bandelier Chess Club through high school, his Bandelier chess team won the Albuquerque elementary Schools Chess League Championship Championship in 2002.
Trevor Lasley, Head Coach and Assistant Director
Caleb Bock, Coach
Zoltán Székely, Coach
Kelsey Montoya, Coach
Coach Kelsey first learned chess in Coach Victor's first Bandelier chess club in the early 2000's. He played regularly through elementary, middle, and high school on competitive teams and in tournaments. Coach Kelsey believes that learning chess at an early age can help students organize their thinking in helpful ways that continue into a healthy and happy adult life.
Outside of coaching chess, Coach Kelsey teaches Improv with Cardboard Playhouse. He also enjoys staying engaged with local politics and game development and mechanics.
Kevin Liou, Coach
Coach Kevin started working with Learners Chess in the Winter of 2023. He likes working with children and watching them grow and gain confidence in their abilities. He loves the chess club atmosphere and listening to his students talk about what they have learned and applying it to their games.
Outside of coaching chess, Kevin loves lots of other real-time strategy games, esports, and music. He tutored for ACT/SAT prep as well as many other scholastic school subjects.
Jay Oca, Coach
Coach Jay started working with Learners Chess in the Fall of 2022. Coach Jay loves teaching chess, especially kids because he loves to see the light-bulb moments they have when they learn new skills.
He also loves to play basketball and spending times with his family.
Expert Doug Thigpen, Advanced Coach
Doug has coached youth chess in his home town of Ruidoso, NM since he was in high school. He has achieved the prestigious rank of Expert level chess player by obtaining a US Chess rating of over 2000. He is a three time former New Mexico State Champion, and once won the Wyoming State championship as well.
Coach Doug is a licensed counselor. In his past, he became an Eagle Scout in 2006 and has a long history of volunteer work with Agora Crisis Center. He loves teaching chess and helping kids push their passion for chess towards continual improvement.
Willow LeTard, Head Coach