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Archive for Sunday, July 20, 2008

Teen chess player one of nation’s best

July 20, 2008

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— Conrad Holt and his father, Keith, sit at the family dining room table, a chess board between them. As they take turns moving pawns and knights, they call out each move.

It looks like any game of chess, but Conrad is blindfolded. His chess skills rank Conrad among the top players in the country at age 15.

"It wasn't until I started in tournaments for a couple of years that I thought I could do it," said the Andover High School sophomore.

On July 6, he tied for first place in his rating category at the 2008 World Chess Open in Philadelphia, the world's biggest open tournament, Conrad said.

More than 100 people competed in Conrad's group. He won eight games and tied one.

"I never dreamed he would do as well as he did," Keith said. "It was just round after round. He kept winning and winning."

When the United States Chess Federation publishes its top player lists in August, Conrad's mother, Rebecca, said he should be in the top five nationwide for chess players at age 15. He should be in the top 50 for players under age 21.

Keith introduced Conrad to chess at age 7. Conrad also learned to play using a LEGO chess computer game.

He competed in his first tournament in July 2004.

"When he was first learning how to play... he would ask me, 'How do you think ahead?'" Keith said.

"Now, I'm asking him, 'How do you think ahead 15 moves?"

To up his skills, Conrad joined the Internet Chess Club four years ago, and competes online against players including grand masters, the highest title in chess.

Conrad also played in his school's chess club last year. Rebecca said he reads and studies to improve his game.

"Because he's risen so quickly, people ask who his coach is," Rebecca said. "It's him. He's his own coach."

In April, Conrad won the National High School Championship Blitz Tournament. In a blitz game, each player has five minutes to make all of his or her moves.

In the Holts' dining room, Conrad's match with his dad ends in a draw. Next, he demonstrates his skills as a blitz champion by defeating Keith in a five-minute game.

Last month, Conrad also won the U.S. Chess Cadet Championship, held by the Anatoly Karpov International School of Chess in Lindsborg.

Conrad defeated seven players under age 16 to win a four-year scholarship to the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

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