by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Cool and unflappable, Trey Sanchez munched on an apple while his equally composed opponent, Diego Salas, fixed a relaxed but steady stare at the board.
Taking turns, their hands would dart forward to move white and black chess pieces across the green and white squares in a moderately quick game. Conversation was at a minimum.
You’ve never seen down and serious until you’ve watched two third-graders play chess.
Sanchez, from St. Patrick School, and Salas, from Our Lady of Unity School, were among the 34 students from three schools participating in the Wyandotte County Catholic Schools Chess Tournament held on May 10 at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas. Resurrection at the Cathedral was the third participating school.
Players were in grades three through eight — each competitor a member of his or her school’s chess club.
The chess tournament has been held on and off for about 14 years, according to Our Lady of Unity physical education teacher and chess coach Judy McGarry, and Resurrection School science teacher Steve Kucharo. There was a gap of two years when the tournament was dormant, but they revived the competition this year.
Unlike other forms of competition, there were no referees at this tournament. That can occasionally lead to “yes, it is/no, it isn’t” disputes when it comes to checkmates.
“They’re supposed to agree,” said McGarry. “We can’t interfere. They have to decide themselves, and that’s the challenge.”
“This game teaches you to think through situations,” continued McGarry, “so you don’t make rash decisions. Chess is about decision-making.”
“Besides challenging my mind,” said Austin Morrow, a fourth- grader at St. Patrick School, “it gives me a new perspective of the things around me.
“Everyone’s hanging out with someone they don’t really know, they’re having fun, making new friends, they’re just interacting with other people.”
Win or lose, it’s important for the students to encourage each other, said Morrow.
But don’t some people become obsessed with winning?
“Sometimes. But if they’re a nice person, no,” said Sanchez. “They want the other person to win sometimes, too.”
Any chess player of experience and ability uses certain strategies, or “tricks.” Dayanna Nicolas, a third-grade student at Our Lady of Unity School, waited until the tournament players eating lunch with her plugged their ears before revealing her tricks.
“You could first move a pawn, and then move a rook, and then your other pawn,” said Nicolas. “As you keep going, you get your knight and two pawns.”
There’s only one way to become a good chess player, according to Nicolas: play, play and play some more. And learn from your mistakes and defeats.
Delena Butters, a third-grader at Our Lady of Unity, has a trick of her own.
“To make a checkmate, I try to do it in a corner,” she said. “Mostly, people move their pawns at first, two [spaces] in front of them, and then their knights.”
Her favorite chess piece? The rook.
“It’s like the queen, except that it can’t go diagonal,” said Butters. “It can go straight, backwards and sideways.”
Tommy Medina’s favorite chess piece is the knight.
“Cuz you can go further with the knight,” said Medina, a fifth-grader at Our Lady of Unity School. “You can go over other pieces to get the other enemy [piece].”
One mark of a good player is that they always have a backup plan if their beginning strategy isn’t working out, said Butters.
“A bad player doesn’t know what to do and they get themselves in checkmate,” she said.
For the first time, Our Lady of Unity School took first place in overall points with a total of 58. St. Patrick School took second with 55 points, and Resurrection came in third with 47. The scoring is two points for winning a game, one point for a draw, and zero for a loss.
Winning first place by class were Our Lady of Unity fourth and eighth grades; St. Patrick third and seventh grades; and Resurrection fifth and sixth grades.