Checkmate: Hundreds of youngsters compete in state chess tournament
1 hour ago • By Karina Gonzalez
NORMAL – As Bekah Nielsen sat at a checkered board-game Saturday morning she used one of her strategies to gain the edge over her competitor.
“I stare at my opponent to make them uncomfortable,” said Nielsen, 11, after her first chess match of the day. “I try to get into their head to get them to make mistakes.”
The sixth-grader at Normal’s Parkside Junior High School was among 600 students from kindergarten through eighth grade who participated Saturday in the 2013 Illinois K-8 Chess Championships at Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center in Normal. The event, sponsored by the Bloomington/Normal Area Scholastic Chess organization together with the Illinois Chess Association, continues through Sunday with a trophy ceremony for winners.
Nielsen said she has played chess regularly since kindergarten. It’s a hobby she learned from older brother Benjamin Nielsen, 15, who continues to coach her. Each time she loses at a chess match, Nielsen learns, she said.
“I like that we get to meet people and at the same time pay a fun game,” said Nielsen.
Fred Schmidt, main organizer for this year’s event, said chess is not only fun for students of any grade level, but the game helps develop skills they can use in other areas of their lives.
“We emphasize the ethics and the sportsmanship to the kids,” said Schmidt. “It helps them with lifelong lessons, including time management … leadership, strategic thinking.”
For suburban parents Connie and Luke Leung, chess is a regular family activity for their three children, Christine, David and Daniel. The Clarendon Hills couple sat on the sidelines as the children, ages 11, 8 and 6, took part in rounds.
“We play at home and at school and we play puzzles, too,” said Connie Leung. “Dad plays with them and coaches them.”
Luke Leung said chess is important because it helps foster critical thinking skills among youngsters.
“It helps them with math and science, especially the older ones,” said Luke Leung.
Bloomington schools participating in the tournament include Benjamin Elementary School, Bloomington Junior High School, George Evans Junior High School, Holy Trinity Catholic School, Northpoint Elementary School, Stevenson Elementary School and Washington Elementary School.
Normal schools include Chiddix Junior High School, Colene Hoose Elementary School, Epiphany Catholic School, Glenn Elementary School, Grove Elementary School, Kingsley Junior High School, Oakdale Elementary School, Prairieland Elementary School, Thomas Metcalf Laboratory School and Parkside Junior High School.
Other McLean County schools include Hudson Elementary School and Towanda Elementary School, among others.
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– GM Susan Polgar