A young boy smiled at 13-year-old Justus Williams, eagerly holding out a plastic chessboard and a Sharpie.
Justus signed the boy’s board and politely thanked him for coming Sunday afternoon to watch Justus play 11 chess matches at once, and then he continued an interview with a reporter.
Was this the first time he’d been asked for an autograph?
“Yeah,” he said, shrugging and cracking a smile.
Justus is an expert chess player and one of the stars of “Brooklyn Castle,” a documentary about New York Intermediate School 318’s chess team that premiered Sunday at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Throughout his nearly three hours of play at Brush Square Park downtown following the film’s screening, he held a calm, almost expressionless demeanor.
In the matches, known as a “simul,” one of his favorite forms of playing chess, Justus took commanding leads early against most of his opponents, eight boys, two men and one girl. He beat several opponents, and some of the matches ended in draws because of time constraints.
“Brooklyn Castle” started out as a character-driven story about IS 318’s storied team, which has won dozens of national tournaments in its 15-year history.
The film’s director, Katie Dellamaggiore, said she started pursuing the film after reading in The New York Times about the school, where more than 65 percent of students are from homes with incomes below the federal poverty level.
But as the filming progressed, Dellamaggiore said, New York’s public schools faced a crippling budget crisis that jeopardized the chess program.
“We didn’t get into it with the intent of talking about an issue, but an issue came to us,” Dellamaggiore said.
Many student chess players in Austin heard about the screening and the event afterward when the film’s organizers contacted local chess groups.
Ethan Schaffer, 11, a sixth-grader at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, came to face one of the world’s best scholastic chess players in Justus and watch a film about one of his hobbies.
“Any thoughts any person had about winning were extinguished within 10 minutes,” Ethan said. “He had me picked apart in minutes.”
Ethan said he enjoyed the film, especially how one student profiled, Patrick, who has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and uses chess to improve his concentration and patience, had troubles and overcame them, eventually winning two matches to help IS 318 win a national title.
Contact Farzad Mashhood at 445-3972
Sign up for my free email chess course for Beginners and Club Players. In this free course, I focus on helping beginner chess players see the entire board. You will learn how to attack your opponent from move 1 and create a new threat with every single move! I’ve created this series of lessons designed to help beginner and club level players understand the game at a deeper level so that you can start beating higher rated players immediately. Start getting free tips from me directly to your inbox!
– GM Susan Polgar