Our Organization


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


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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.

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After High School, he attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, where he co-founded the college chess club, played NCAA Division III college football and rugby, and graduated with degree in Urban and Environmental Policy in 2008. For the next two years Victor worked as a community organizer while working to increase civic engagement for underrepresented constituencies in Portland, Oregon, Iowa City, Iowa, and Gainesville, Florida. In November 2009, Victor returned to Albuquerque to pursue his MBA in social entrepreneurship and work on a start-up nonprofit that sought to reduce poverty by implementing a model of micro-lending to reduce energy consumption and costs for low income households. He also became a substitute teacher and started coaching the Monte Vista Chess Club. As he rediscovered his love for working with children and coaching chess, he started Learners Chess Academy as mainly a summer job. During his second summer of chess camps he decided to pursue Learners full time. He has since built Learners into a successful non-profit organization committed to the mission to improve child literacy in New Mexico by spreading the learning of chess in ways that develop intellect, social skills, life skills, and leadership. Coach Victor has been recognized for his work with Learners as an Obama White House Champion of Change in February of 2016 and by the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce as a Spirit of New Mexico Award Recipient. These awards were among many other great recognitions that Victor and Learners Chess earned in 2016

Trevor Lasley, Head Coach


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Coach Trevor has been with Learners Chess since Spring of 2016. In high school he helped lead his chess team to top 3 in state, three years running. Teaching has become a passion of his, as “watching his students grow and develop is priceless.” He enjoys making his kids laugh with an avid repertoire of jokes, while watching the students improve and grow each year he is with them.

Outside of coaching, Trevor participates in Soccer and Ultimate Frisbee, as well as training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. He also bonds with his kids over things like Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh, being an avid card collector and player himself.
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Willow LeTard, Head Coach


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Coach Willow first started as a student with Learners Chess in 2011. She has grown up in the program, graduating from student, to junior leader, to coach in 2016. Coach Willow is a 3-time New Mexico Scholastic Girls State Chess Champion and a 1-time New Mexico Women’s State Chess Champion. 

Willow has had the opportunity to travel all around the country to play chess and meet many famous chess players. She has also been a United State Chess Federation certified tournament director since 2015, directing over 50 tournaments and over 2,300 chess games. Coaching and organizing chess has become Willow’s passion and on top of Learners, she has also been on the board of the New Mexico Chess Organization and runs a small local chess playing club in Albuquerque. Coach Willow strives to make her students feel safe and comfortable in class, while still giving them room to be challenged and have fun.
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Expert Doug Thigpen, Advanced Coach


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Coach Doug started working with Learners Chess Academy as a chess camp instructor during the summer of 2012. He is currently the coach our our Invitational Advanced Chess Class for students who demonstrate strong dedication to learning and improving their chess.

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.

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Part-Time Coaches


Kyle Henke

Coach Kyle has been with Learners Chess since Spring of 2014. He is currently a Graduate student in Applied Mathematics at UNM and is tailoring his research towards the physical and mental benefits of mindfulness. He is a former Collegiate athlete and believes Chess and Mindfulness education is the most effective way to promote analytical thinking, while also cultivating creative problem solving and team cooperation.

Justin Gomez

Coach Justin has been with Learners Chess since Fall of 2015. As a class-A player, Justin has competed in a range of open tournaments across the US. Outside of coaching for Learners, he works for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New Mexico, where he has volunteered as a big brother for years.