Hunched over a chess board at Redmond’s Ridgeview High School Saturday afternoon, 10-year-old Carson Woods grimaced as he puzzled over his next move.
Moments after winning his fifth of five matches Saturday, Carson explained that his difficulties came from trying to prolong the game. He’d had opportunities to beat his opponent, fellow John Tuck Elementary fifth-grader Soren Stancliff, Carson said, but felt bad about putting his friend in checkmate too quickly.
Carson finished second in his age group at the state tournament last year, and thinks he’s a much better player now. At this point, the only person in his chess club at school who can beat him is his father, Shawn Woods, a teacher at the school who also serves as the club’s coach.
Winning over and over again hasn’t yet sapped Carson’s interest in chess.
“It never really got old for me,” he said.
Saturday’s competition in Redmond was one of five regional tournaments held around the state by Chess for Success, a Portland-based group that works to teach chess to schoolchildren.
Dave Brouillard, regional director for Chess for Success, said the game can offer valuable lessons to young people.
“They learn that there’s consequences to actions; they learn to think about what they’re doing before they do it,” he said. “Hopefully, that translates into the classroom. That’s the whole mission of Chess for Success — ‘What happens when I don’t do my homework? Well, I don’t learn math.’”
Although Saturday’s tournament was open to kids from kindergarten through 12th grade, it was heavily tilted toward elementary students, with 67 of the 96 entrants coming from among the younger ranks. Brouillard said that’s typical of past tournaments and likely a result of the chess clubs Chess for Success has established in six area elementary schools.
Sasha Komar, a sixth-grader at Sisters Middle School, said she’s been playing chess since she was 6 but hadn’t entered a tournament until Saturday.
Sasha, 12, said getting to play with opponents of varying skill levels had been interesting.
“I’ve played mostly with my stepdad, and here, I play with people around my age,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s a little harder, and sometimes it’s a little easier.”
Second-grader Ellie Woods, Carson’s sister, said she started playing chess in kindergarten. She’d discovered a chess set at home, and when she brought it to her father to ask what it was, he offered to teach her how to play.
Ellie said competitive chess has allowed her to meet kids from other schools she’d never have met otherwise.
“You can always make new friends doing it,” she said.
Ellie said her father has promised her $100 if she beats him in a match, and that every time they play, she gets a little bit closer.
The top finishers in Saturday’s tournament will get an opportunity to represent Central Oregon at the Chess for Success statewide tournament in Portland in March.
Brouillard said he’s constantly impressed by how quickly kids who’ve only played chess for a few years can become formidable players.
“I’d bet the kids that are in the first four places here would smoke me,” he said. “They’d probably have me in checkmate in no time at all.”
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