Today Todd competed in the Stewart Elementary Chess Tournament. I (Brent) had intended to practice with him beforehand, but if you know anything about me it won't surprise you that I procrastinated it until the last day...and he had a party with friends until 10:30 that night. He had played a game and a half the week before and hadn't played any other chess in over a year.
So, rather than spend a few minutes last night going over chess strategies, I tried to prepare him emotionally for the possibility that he wouldn't win any matches. He said as long as he won one game he would be OK. I crossed my fingers.
We set three goals for the tournament: Have fun; learn to play disciplined; and win at least one game. I am happy to say that Todd achieved all three goals.
The five-round tournament was well-organized, with strict rules. Parents were not allowed near the kids during the rounds, and all the matches began simultaneously with opponents shaking hands. There were over 100 entrants and they gave out about 70 trophies and medals. All the kids seemed to enjoy themselves.
In the first round, Todd was matched up against the boy who would eventually take third in the tournament. It became immediately apparent to me that Todd has a lot of natural ability. I couldn't see the exact moves he was making from across the gym, but I could see that Todd was up a queen early in the game. (I couldn't see the board well, but I could see the pieces that were taken and set in a row to the side.) I probably got more excited than I should have been, as the other boy got serious and began to, piece-by-piece, get back into the game, eventually advanced a pawn to get a queen, and then won. The epic match ended up lasting about twenty minutes longer than any of the others. Below is a picture of the match, taken with my phone. (The two boys are in the very back.)
Todd rebounded from the loss and won his second match. That broke the ice in a way, and he seemed to really enjoy the tournament after that. The third match was against a boy that also eventually placed in the tournament. Todd was again ahead early, but struggled with strategy in the middle and end game and eventually lost.
After another loss in his fourth match, Todd's final game was against Nate, a boy that just happened to be in Todd's 11-year-old-scouts troop. Like Todd's first-round game, this was also the longest match of the round. It ended with a dramatic and semi-controversial finish.
In this match, the two boys were even for a while, then Todd lost his queen. Nate used this advantage to take most of Todd's pieces. Eventually, Todd was left with only his two rooks against a queen, two rooks, a knight and several pawns. He managed to avoid checkmate for quite a while and then, in what I consider a last-ditch effort, Todd moved one of his rooks to the second-to-last row, setting up his other rook for a potential move to the last row, which would pin Nate's king in checkmate. Or, at least that is what Todd thought.
By chance, this match was on the table that was closest to where the parents were allowed to stand and I could see the board fairly well. I could see what Todd was trying to do, and I could also see that it wouldn't result in checkmate because Nate's queen was diagonally defending the position on the back row where Todd wanted to move his second rook. As it turns out, the other boy didn't notice the attack and advanced a pawn. Thinking he had the victory, Todd very excitedly stood up, moved his rook across the board and declared checkmate. Nate was stunned. He also thought it was checkmate! He shook hands and congratulated Todd on the win and then very sadly went to report the loss.
I couldn't believe it. I had the urge to immediately point out the boys' oversight, but I also knew that the rules are clear that I shouldn't say anything to them. Instead, I found the official and explained to her what had happened. She confirmed that I shouldn't say anything. After the boys recorded the results, I congratulated Todd on the win, but pointed out that it wasn't actually mate. Todd, wanting to do the right thing, hurredly found Nate and told him what happened and that they should keep playing. After a bit of discussion with the scorekeeper, then verification with the official, the game was ruled a victory for Todd. Hopefully it was a learning experience for both boys.
Todd's final record was 2-and-3...pretty good for his first tournament. Most importantly, he showed a lot of discipline that is often hard for kids to have in the pressure and excitement of the competition. You will notice in the picture above that he is sitting on his hands, a strategy that forces you to consider your options carefully before you make a move. It is something my dad taught me and that I taught him.
I'm happy that Todd had a lot of fun, and am looking forward to taking him to the state tournament in May.