Chess players converge on KU

Southwest students take crown at state tournament

Five eighth-graders from Southwest Junior High won the high school state chess championship Saturday at the Kansas Union.

“It was awesome. Erie (High School) had beaten us by half a point last year,” said Thomas Reams, who finished fifth overall out of 192 players in the individual competition.

“(Southwest) has played up to high school competition for awhile. And our team’s been together since elementary school at Quail Run School,” he said as he shrugged off the team’s victory among older competition.

Reams and his teammates Thomas Clark, Keely Stenseng, Kellen Cross and Peter Lesslie won a tiebreaker against defending champion Erie on Saturday at the Kansas State Invitational Chess Championships. Bob Holliman and Brad Johnson coach Southwest’s team.

All of the 570 players ranging from elementary age through high school played six matches throughout the day in the round-robin tournament.

Blue Valley High School in Stilwell finished third overall in the high school division. Lawrence Free State High School’s team finished third among 6A schools.

“Yes, all the work we did was worth it. All of it,” Southwest player Stenseng said.

Before each round started, chaos reigned in the ballroom until the players sat down at their boards, shook hands with their opponents and got the OK to start from Tom Claman, president of the Kansas Scholastic Chess Assn.

Other than a few parents whispering in the balcony, the only sounds heard were the chess pieces moving on the boards and the players slapping their clocks. Some games took only a few minutes. Many of the high school matches lasted longer than 30 minutes.

After four rounds, Griffin Jacobson, a Cordley School fourth-grader, said he had won two matches, lost one and finished one in a draw. He revealed part of his strategy for the day.

“Sometimes people don’t notice their moves, and they will just do something when they aren’t paying attention,” he said. “That’s how I won one of my games.”

KU English professor Phil Wedge, a sponsor for the Cordley team, said the game’s popularity and having so many players in one place made for a great atmosphere.

“Chess is a good game in terms of reasoning and math skills,” Wedge said.

Free State High School junior Bryce Baringer and Clark, a Southwest team member, said they usually just tried to focus on the game in front of them.

Individually, Baringer finished 34th, and Clark took home 10th place. Clark had to think for a second when asked whether his older opponents intimidated him.

“I used to be (scared),” he said.

“Yeah, but now you’re better than most of them,” Baringer said.

Derby High School student Maxx Coleman went 6-0 on Saturday and won the individual title in the high school category. He will represent the state in a national tournament that is named for chess champion Arnold Denker, Claman said.