Nearly 600 students participated in the Kansas State Scholastic Chess Championships at the Kansas Union on Saturday.
Lucas Dryer, a fifth-grader from Olathe, was among them. Dryer was decked out in KU gear (his dad’s an alumnus) and after his first game, he gravitated toward his parents and shared the news. Big grins immediately stretched across their faces.
Lucas won his first game in about 20 minutes, but the games can last an hour. Near the end of Lucas’ game, things tipped in his favor when he was able to pin his opponent’s queen to his rook. Then later, when Lucas took down his opponent’s queen, he knew that he had clenched the game, so it was no surprise when he won.
Lucas, 10, has been playing chess since he was 4. His grandfather is from Bulgaria, a country where chess flourishes.
Lucas has watched his grandfather play since he can remember. Later he began competing with him. They still play together today.
“He wins sometimes, but usually I win,” said Lucas.
His parents, Jeff and Helena, have a profound respect for chess. They study the game, reading books by Susan Polgar, a Hungarian-American grandmaster chess player. The family was actually able to meet Polgar, who is an international chess celebrity. The experience motivated the family to study chess more diligently.
Qualifications to play in Saturday’s tournament were basic. Individuals in the kindergarten through 12th-grade division, which had the strictest requirements, had to have competed in at least two tournaments and scored at least two points in each during chess season, which runs from September to March.
Lawrence was well-represented in the competition, said Phil Hedge, host of the tournament.
“Chess is really popular in Lawrence,” he said. “From both Free State and Lawrence High, we have a large number of players today.”
Chess is a game that often takes root in the young, said Wedge. There tends to be more of an interest in elementary school because there are fewer competing interests. Once junior high and high school kick in, some players drop out to pursue other things, like basketball or soccer. Others quit for different reasons.
“For some kids, the older they get the more they might be concerned about image,” Wedge said. But those who stick it out can reap lasting benefits. Playing, learning and practicing chess can help logical and mathematical skills, said Wedge, who is reluctant to stereotype chess players.
“It does look good on your resume, particularly if you’re applying to elite schools if you are able to say that you’ve won at the state tournament,” he says.
Theresa Purdy, of Oxford, and her family know what it’s like to win the state tournament. Purdy had seven children participating in Saturday’s event, the family competing as a team. For the past three years, they have won first place, Purdy said.
The Purdy children, who are all home-schooled, started playing about six years ago, when one of Purdy’s older sons learned to play.
“He just started teaching everybody, and they teach each other, and they play each other,” Purdy said. “They get competitive, but they’re pretty friendly about it.”