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Chess Returns to Central Middle School

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

From left to right: Jacob Camp, Best 5th Grade Intermediate; Logan Hann, Best Novice; Samartha Shrestha, Best 6th Grade Advanced/CMS Grand Champion; Bennett Kidd, Best 5th Grade Intermediate; Casey Vaughn, Best 6th Grade Intermediate; Isaac Buck, Best 5th Grade Advanced; Assistant Coach Lesa Hinton, and Chess Coach Jonathan Budil. Inset: Jamonte Rush, Most Improved
Central Middle School reinstated its afternoon Chess Club this year by popular demand after a year hiatus. Forty-five students signed up. On Saturday March 6th, the top four chess club players met at Broadway Books and Roasting Company for the tournament that would determine who the next school champ would be.

All the top players were from the sixth grade. Ten-year-old Samartha Shrestha was favored going into the tournament, with 14 wins, 1 draw and no losses from the two tournaments leading up to this one. The youngest sixth's grader's academic record had enabled him to skip the fourth grade.

The outcome of the tournament was far from certain, however. Reed Dicksen had been a close second in the semifinals. Garrett Jackson had handed Shrestha his only tournament draw to date, and Bailey Sheehan once had a winning position against Shrestha in a previous encounter.

Jonathan Budil, the match arbiter and CMS chess coach since 2005, decided to enforce the touch-move rule: players must move the first piece they touch on their turn, if it has a legal move. The players had been informed at the start of chess club that this was the way most chess tourneys were run, but had not been required to abide by it until now. This may have been a game-changer for the players who were not as adept at visualizing their next move in their heads without picking up a piece on the board.

In the first round, Jackson and Shrestha traded turns almost as fast as they could move the pieces. Their pace suggested they were playing a blitz game of chess, where all moves must be made in a few minutes, rather than the half-hour their clocks allotted them. At that pace, it's easy to miss things. Shrestha threatened Jackson's queen with his castle, and Jackson missed it. Checkmate and Shrestha's first win followed shortly afterwards. Dicksen's victory over Sheehan was a bit more lopsided, with most of Sheehan's army captive at the sidelines before his king finally surrendered.

During the second round, all players took a bit more time. Jackson sought to sneak in a tactic known as the Scholar's Mate on Sheehan, basically trying to win in the first four moves, but Sheehan countered it easily. However, the touch-move rule was beginning to cause some frustration. "Gaah, I hate that rule!" Sheehan complained, as a careless touch cost him a castle. Jackson later caught Sheehan's king with a castle and queen combo. Meanwhile, Shrestha was claiming most of the space on his board, crowding Dicksen's pieces. With little room to maneuver, Dicksen was unable to prevent checkmate.

As the final round arrived, only Sheehan stood between Shrestha and the All-School Chess Champion trophy. Unlike Sheehan, Shrestha liked the touch-move rule. It seemed to work in his favor more often than not. Towards the end, sensing victory, Shrestha began to rush a bit more. In his excitement, he even tried to capture one of his own pawns that his opponent's king was hidden behind. Eventually, Shrestha succeeded in keeping his undefeated tournament reputation intact.

The champion trophy and other chess achievement trophies were presented at a special awards assembly March 18 in CMS auditorium. School librarian and sponsor Vickie Howard and chess coach Jonathan Budil were pleased with the club's close competition, knowing that players' critical thinking skills will improve and may even result in college scholarships.

Although Central Middle School's Chess Club has completed another official year, tournament host Broadway Books and Roasting Co. continues to offer students a place to play each other and learn more from their coaches.

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Thanks for the article! It was very fun to read. Couple of questions for anyone who can answer:

(1) I thought "castles" were more commonly known as "rooks". When (or where) are they called "castles" rather than "rooks"? Is that some kind of geographical split or is there a more technical reason?

(2) I have never really played much chess in person - played it online, on Yahoo, occasionally. So, I haven't really heard of the touch-move rule. I see that most tournaments enforce it, but what is the purpose behind it? Is it just an etiquette thing? I can see the problem with actually picking up a piece and then putting it back down, because one would take the risk of setting it down in the wrong square by mistake. But to not be allowed to touch your piece at all seems strict.

Once again, thanks - fantastic narrative.

45 students! Wow!

-- Posted by DonT15 on Thu, Mar 25, 2010, at 8:39 AM

Hi Don T,

To answer your first question, you are correct that it is more common in Chess circles to use the name "Rook" rather than "Castle", although the terms are interchangable. Similarly, some people refer to knights as "horses". Algebraic chess notation uses "R" for Rook, "N" for kNight, "B" for Bishop, "Q" for Queen, and "K" for King. My intention was to make the story more accessible to readers who aren't as familiar with the terminology of chess.

The reasoning behind the touch-move rule is more than politeness. Without it, there would be no end of players trying to take back moves they belatedly saw to be blunders. It is also good mental discipline. It teaches players to use their brains instead of their fingers. It may seem harsh to the casual player, but when there's a prize at stake, stricter rules are needed. My one regret is that I didn't try to make the kids play that way all season long, so that they'd be used to it at the final tourney. That's a change I will make next time.

There is a good write-up on the details and history of the touch-move rule at the following web address:


Thank you for your response!

-- Posted by jbudil on Thu, Mar 25, 2010, at 12:38 PM

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