With my encouragement, the kids have taken an increased interest in chess lately. Todd has been a good player for years now and has played in a few tournaments. Kenna and Alec have learned to play and are pretty good, considering their young ages.
I proposed they play in the first tournament of this school year: the Ogden Scholastic Open. Kenna likes chess, but wasn't interested in doing it competitively. Todd was a bit hesitant because he hasn't played much in the three years since his last tournament, but finally agreed. And Alec, always up for anything, thought it'd be very fun. In fact, he started counting down the days until the tournament.
The tournament was this past Saturday (October 5) at Ogden High School. It started at 8:00 a.m. and lasted most of the day. I knew Alec would be matched against older kids, but it didn't occur to me until we saw the first-round pairings that Todd would be also. For this tournament, the 9th graders were grouped in with the high school students. So, both Todd and Alec played *all* of their matches against older kids.
Todd's first-round game was a rough one. He was matched up against a 12th grader who would eventually go on to win the tournament. He had a few other difficult match-ups and ended up finishing the tournament 1-4. This was only slightly disappointing considering the age of his competition and the fact that it's the first tournament of the year after taking a few years off. I hope he didn't get discouraged because he's got plenty of time to practice before the bigger tournaments later in the year.
Alec's first two rounds were both against 3rd-graders, and neither game was close. Both opponents showed that a couple more years of maturity and experience at that age can make a huge difference. I started to fear that I'd entered Alec in a tournament too soon and that he'd have a bad experience. However, his third- and fourth-round games were against a fellow 1st-grader and a 2nd-grader. Alec won the third round easily, then pulled out a long, hard-fought fourth round victory.
Alec's fifth and final game was epic. There was a bit of pressure on the line because we knew ahead of time that a victory would guarantee him a trophy. He was matched against a well-coached third-grader that examined the board with each move, taking chess notation. It seemed to me that Alec was over-matched, but he captured his opponent's queen quite early in the game. As Alec started to leverage his advantage by capturing his opponent's pawns, I started to think that victory would be assured. However, Alec made a bad move and lost his queen, leaving the match basically even again. At this point there was a bit of a race as each boy tried to be the first one to get a pawn to the final row and convert it to a queen. Alec won the race and was briefly ahead, but failed to stop the other boy's pawn before it also became a queen.
By this point the match had been going for over 45 minutes and the tournament had been going for over six hours. This is a very long time for a six-year-old to stay focused and I could see that it was getting harder for Alec to be patient. He was starting to hurry his moves without considering all options first. But, to make matters worse, the worst thing possible happened: They put a clock on the game.
For those that are unfamiliar with chess tournaments, I should explain how clocks are used. For most games, the players are allowed to take as long as they like for their move. However, this can result in games taking a really long time. So during each round, as the shorter games finish, they put clocks on the games that are taking too long. They give each player a certain amount of time--say, ten minutes each--to finish the game. If you use more than your allotted time you lose. This can change the dynamic of a game considerably. The one-on-one nature of a chess match makes it higher-pressure than you might think. Add to that the fact that you are being timed--and have most likely attracted spectators--and the pressure and distraction can be huge.
You've probably guessed where I'm going with this: Alec fell to the distraction of the clock and started watching his and his opponents time more than he was watching the chess board. His older, more experience, opponent wasn't as distracted and capitalized on a few of Alec's careless moves and eventually won. Todd and I were disappointed that Alec lost because he was ahead so late in the game, but Alec, being his happy-go-lucky self, wasn't down in the least.
Alec finished the tournament in a tie for first in his grade--both he and another boy had two wins. I was anxious as we waited for the awards to be announced, wondering which boy had more tie-break points and would be given the 1st-place trophy. When they said the other boy's name for 2nd place I knew Alec had taken first! He was so proud of himself when they called him up to get his trophy.
I'm proud of how the kids played. I was never much of an athlete when I was young, so I mostly live vicariously through them in chess rather than sports. They have another small tournament tomorrow--I'll be sure to post results--then a few months off until the bigger tournaments, including the state tournaments in March.