Chess kids match wits

Bloomington holds first Youth Chess Tournament

By David Horn, Hoosier Times

Binford Elementary third-grader Justin Chen reacts to his opponent's move on the chessboard. In this first round, students were paired up randomly with opponents. Staff photo by Monty Howell



Standing tippy-toe on a chair, Taylor Loring was just tall enough to peer through a window into the Binford Elementary School cafeteria Saturday afternoon.

She saw boys and girls sitting across from each other at long, narrow tables, studying chessboards. Rooks, castles, bishops, knights, kings and queens were moving quickly as children tried to checkmate each other during Bloomington's first-ever Youth Chess Tournament.

"I want to play chess," Taylor whispered to herself, but even though she turns 3 on Saturday, she'll have to wait two more years to make her first move in the age 5-13 competition.

Inside the sunny cafeteria, about 60 children sat deep in concentration.

Why are so many kids hooked on chess?

"It's like a war in real life!" said 9-year-old Hadley Crohn, looking up from her hand-painted, Russian-made chess set, and she was right.

Historians say chess evolved as a battle game after it first appeared around 600 A.D. somewhere in India. There's no official record of who invented the game, but it quickly became popular, spreading through Islamic nations in the sixth century before arriving in Europe during the 10th century.

Around 1060, William the Conquerer was playing chess one day and is said to have broken a chess board over the head of the Prince of France after losing one of their games.

No boards were broken at Saturday's tournament, but even best friends enjoyed matching wits with each other

"It's a real challenging game," said 10-year-old Dylan Hollinden, peering across a board at 9-year-old Owen Stout.

"In chess you have to use strategy," Stout said.

Seventh-grader Cassie Orr agreed.

"I've played since kindergarten," she said, "and sometimes I actually plan five moves ahead."

Saturday's tournament was sponsored by the Bloomington Indiana Community Youth Chess League, a fast-growing brainchild of Steve Volan.

"Our first club formed in January 2000, as the Binford Thursday After School Club," he said. "We had 55 kids show up for the first meeting."

Since then, Lakeview Elementary School has formed a Monday after-school chess club and chess players at Grandview Elementary meet each Wednesday.

"I talked to a parent recently who wants to start a club at University Elementary School," Volan said, "so by the end of the year we'll have at least four schools with chess clubs, and maybe even playing each other."

But Volan has even bigger plans for the future. He'd like to see a citywide chess league where kids get together to compete in the same way they play baseball or soccer.

Saturday's tournament was split into three divisions: grades K-2, 3-5 and 6-8. Each child played five games against five different opponents.

Watching youngsters move from game to game during the afternoon, chess parent Kent Orr said the initial club at Binford was "the seed for all this." He credited the school with providing chess sets and making the new club feel welcome when it formed.

This year the seed club grew into a tournament. Can it grow any bigger? Volan thinks so.

"My model is the U.S. Chess Center in Washington, D.C.," he said. "They actually have a building where kids can go to play chess, take lessons and join clubs. I don't see any reason why Bloomington can't do the same thing."