Excellence in chess is an MMS tradition, with Mountaineer Montessori claiming many state championships throughout the decades. Today, that legacy remains strong, with programs offered for both beginner and advanced students. Practices are held after school under the direction of Coach Jason Winesburg.
From the Charleston Gazette-Daily Mail, 3-8-16
Students test chess skills in tournament
The game of chess can get intense as it pits players against one another in a battle of the mind. That’s why a skilled player must always be aware, plotting his or her next move and the moves of the opponent all while taking score and keeping track of time.
For 90 students on Saturday, their skills were tested during the West Virginia Scholastic Chess Championship, an all-day tournament that determines which three of the state’s best chess players will go on to national competitions later this year.
“Chess is all about thinking and forming strategies,” said Craig Timmons, one of the tournament’s coordinators.
That’s also what Clare Higgins told a group of Horace Mann Middle School students huddled around her before they started their games. Clare, who has been playing chess for eight years and competing in the annual championship since second grade, was one of the most experienced players in Saturday’s tournament, which was at West Virginia State University.
In a pep talk that sounded more like a battle cry, the Capital High sophomore said winning requires paying attention. It also takes calculation.
“This isn’t the place to try out new plans,” she said, looking from player to player. “Stick to your game. You know your game.”
Chess requires quick thinking. Timmons said players in Saturday’s tournament, many of whom also participate in regional spelling, math, geography and other scholastic competitions, are adept competitors already familiar with the rigors of the game.
“They’re all very academic, smart kids,” he said.
Many, like Clare, have been competing for years. She and her fellow Capital High team members have been playing in the championship since they attended Piedmont Elementary. They also played as a team at Horace Mann. They’ve gone on to win several school championships, Clare said.
Robert Greer, chief tournament director, said chess has grown in popularity in recent years as kids come back and new ones enter the competition.
“It’s being recognized as an outstanding supplement for academics,” Greer said when asked why the game has seen a spike in participation. “Here, they learn team skills, but it also requires them to think for themselves.”
Another reason chess may be growing in popularity among academically inclined students is that it’s an inclusive game.
“It’s good for all students,” Greer said, adding that regardless of their age, gender or ability “they compete on the same playing field.”
It’s as if players are drawn to the competition, Timmons said.
“Kids come back year after year,” he said.
Timmons said he thinks many players are drawn to chess because it is a game of strategy. For others in Saturday’s tournament, Timmons said it provides a team environment for players who may not want to play baseball or football.
While chess is a game of wits, players still need to be in good shape, Greer said. Because tournaments can last hours, experienced players know to eat healthy and get plenty of rest so they stay alert on game day.
Saturday marked the tournament’s 49th year. Student teams from all over the state participated.
The tournament started as a high school only competition in the 1960s, but middle schoolers were invited years later. Soon after that, the tournament was opened up to any grade school student.
Today, players are paired in those age groups.
Other than age, matches are determined by a player’s chess ranking, which is determined by the outcomes of previous tournaments. The top players are matched against the bottom players. For instance, if there are 20 players, the No. 1 ranked player faces No. 9. Second plays 10th.
Greer said rankings are more of a guide though, used to instill order into the tournament.
“The big kid doesn’t always win,” he said.
Sometimes, even the most skilled players lose, Timmons said, adding that the clock can beat them before their opponent does.
Saturday’s games were timed. Players were given between 30 and 60 minutes for each game, depending on their age.
There were four sessions. Players who won in the first moved on to face in the second others who won. Each session paired down winners until a champion was determined.
Timmons said he hopes to do something special next year for the tournament’s 50th year.
Clare Higgins, from Capital High School, won top female player, and will be nominated to represent West Virginia at the National Girls Invitational Tournament in August. Malvika Bendre, of Overbrook Elementary School, won first place in the K-3 Division, and Thomas Ward, from Piedmont Elementary, won first place in the K-5 Division. Nicholas Palmer, of Notre Dame High School in Harrison County, won first place in the K-8 Division and will be nominated to represent West Virginia at the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions. Parker Benson, of Lincoln High School in Harrison County, won first place in the K-12 Division and will be nominated to represent West Virginia at the Denker Tournament of High School Champions.
The team winners for the tournament were as follows: K-3 first place was awarded to Mountaineer Montessori School, K-5 first place went to Piedmont Elementary School, K-8 first place was awarded to Notre Dame High School and K-12 first place went to Lincoln High School.
Reach Samuel Speciale at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-7939 or follow @samueljspeciale on Twitter.