Chess moves captured students on Martin Luther King Day
By Michele Steinbacher

NORMAL — More than 300 area students spent their day off from school Monday focused on intellectual pursuit.

But most said the draw to one of the Twin Cities oldest chess tournaments was simply for a good time, and to meet new friends.

“It’s all about having fun. You get to stay here all day and play games,” said Blake Rodgers, a fifth-grader from Oakdale Elementary School. He’d just finished his fifth match of the day.

Kindergarten through eighth-grade students attended the 21st annual Martin Luther King Day Chess Tournament, organized by the Bloomington-Normal Area Scholastic Chess organization. Nearly all area elementary schools and junior high schools sent teams, and some Peoria and Champaign teams also took part.

Nathaniel Smith and Yash Thacker, third- and fifth-grade students respectively from Sugar Creek Elementary School in Normal, both said facing new players gave them a chance to learn new chess moves and strategies. And Nathaniel, who’d previously attended another Unit 5 school, relished seeing his old friends.

To make the crowd at home, the Kingsley Junior High School in Normal was transformed into a chess-centered universe. Chess master and Peoria native Pete Karagianis of Des Moines, Iowa, shared tips and gave demonstrations.

The halls were lined with sheets listing the latest pairings for competitions; its cafeteria and a spare gym were filled children playing informal games. Its main gym was lined with tables set for formal competitions.

More than 100 matches were going on at any given time throughout the roughly seven-hour tournament, said lead organizer Mark Nibbelin.

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