Meneley goes wild for chess

The weather was uncommonly warm but there were still at least 60 spectators, some with lunch trays, who stayed inside to watch the chess tournament at noon Tuesday.

Unlike international matches where the players compete in almost total silence, the Meneley common area was the usual elementary school lunch time din.

The final four competitors - junior division players Zachary Kellar, third grade, and Jared Swensen, second grade, and senior division players Matthias West, sixth grade, and Bryce Belanger, fifth grade - played through the noise and attention.

"Playing in front of all these people, they're really cautious," said instructor Mike Jessup. "They really take it seriously."

The first tournament at Meneley was started by John Soderman when he was a teacher at the school in the 1980s.

"Chess has grown by leaps and bounds over the years," said Jessup. "When I started we only had 35 kids in all but now we have 136 participating. That's one-fifth of the entire student population."

Jessup attributes the rising popularity of chess to people being able to learn and play chess on computers. Meneley has three tournaments during the school year.

"In this tournament I had 22 chess boards with 44 participants," he said. "I use fifth-graders to officiate."

Giving the final match attention in the common area using the deluxe chess tables with the big wooden pieces also generates interest for students. The winners of the tournaments receive chess boards or movie tickets.

The game ends when one player is down to the king. Jessup said the average length of most matches is 30 minutes but games have been known to take as long as two and a half hours. The final matches Tuesday were determined in a little more than 20 minutes.

Bryce, in his first visit to the finals, won the senior division. Zachary got Jared down to his king in a junior division rematch from the last tournament.

The first- and second-place winners could hardly be distinguished from each other at the conclusion of the match. After the final move, Zachary reached across the board to shake Jared's hand. Jared was congratulated by his friends with hugs and pats on the back. The spectators screamed their approval.

Later, Jared admitted that being in a loud lunch room can hurt his concentration. He said he was 3 years old when his father first taught him chess.

"I play chess on the computer and with my family," said Jared. "For Christmas, my aunt gave me the Chess Challenge 2 game."

Jared is already working on his strategy for the next tournament in the spring.

"I learned that everyone has a most common move," he said. "I think Zachary's is when you move the pawn so you can get both the queen and bishop out."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment