But add 5,000 competitors vying for a national title, and the third-grader at Langston Hughes School started feeling a little pressure.
"The first game I got butterflies in my stomach and my legs were shaking," he said.
Michael is one of about 40 Lawrence students competing in the United States Chess Federation's Supernationals at Kansas City's Bartle Hall. Organizers say the event -- which began Thursday and continues through today -- is the largest chess tournament ever.
Lawrence's delegation includes students from West and Southwest junior high schools and Langston Hughes and Quail Run elementary schools.
Each competitor is placed in a division based on his or her age and USCF rating, which is determined during competitions at local and state tournaments throughout the school year. Entrants -- who don't have to qualify to compete -- each play seven matches.
In the past, only Lawrence students who could afford to pay their own way could go to national tournaments. But this year, because the tournament was so close, nearly all chess club members could go.
"I'd like for them to be aware just how big chess can be for them," said Kelly Barker, a Southwest Junior High teacher and chess coach. "As they become adults, there are competitions like this for them. If they want to keep competing for the rest of their lives, they can do that."
For some students, the national event is serious competition. After Saturday's first round, some parents were consoling their crying children who lost their matches. Other parents chided their children for making bad moves.
Barker said the Lawrence youngsters weren't taking it so seriously.
"It seems like a simple game once you learn the rules," he said. "But there are tons of skills and tactics and theories that go along with it. For people who spend a lot of time studying the game, it can become very consuming."
Alex Greer, a seventh-grader at Southwest Junior High, said more spectators at the national tournament have led to more distractions during matches.
"It's a lot more pressure," he said. "People's ratings are a lot higher than you get normally. You could get nervous and break down. Or you can try to concentrate on the game and you'll be fine."
Lawrence was in the top 10 Saturday in Greer's division -- one of the kindergarten through eighth-grade divisions.
Trey Herington, a fourth-grader at Langston Hughes, wasn't having as much luck. He summed up his success in the tournament: "I've played two guys from Indiana and a kid from Texas. I refuse to play kids from those states ever again."
Nicky Henriquez, a first-grader at Quail Run, was attending his first national tournament. He joined the school's chess club this year after hearing his brother, Alex, talk about it last year.
"It's a pretty good exercise for my brain," Nicky said.
-- Staff writer Terry Rombeck can be reached at 832-7145.