Final event before
Going into the final regular season tournament of the year Saturday at home, Hillsboro Chess Guild has had 17 players qualify for the state tournament, ranging in grade level from first grade through high school.
Additionally, Hillsboro placed first in the middle school division and second in the elementary school division at the Canton-Galva tournament, and Jacob Denholm took home the third-place individual trophy in the elementary school division at Valley Center.
Tabor College professor Del Gray leads a weekly after-school chess club at Hillsboro Elementary School. He volunteered this year after a high school student who led the group graduated in May. Gray said he has seen improvement across the board among the players.
“The most dramatic changes can be seen in the kids who come in with little or no knowledge of the game,” Gray said. “In a few short weeks they learn all of the fundamentals and begin to form some rudimentary strategies.
“They are like sponges at this stage, and improvement comes quickly and in leaps and bounds. It is very rewarding to watch beginners get a lot better, and we have a handful this year like that.”
Experienced players improve in more subtle ways, he said. They learn more of the strategies involved and develop their own personal styles of play.
“Some play well by being conservative and defensive, while others thrive with flourishes of risk and creativity,” Gray said.
But chess isn’t all about competition. The skills players develop in chess can help them in other parts of life, he said.
“One of the great things about chess is the heavy demand it makes on a player to look ahead and foresee consequences of a move,” Gray said. “This sharpens the student’s ability to explore their options, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various plays, and make a solid decision. This is the beginning of a process where they are learning to critically engage ideas and think about how to recognize a good idea from a bad one.”
It also requires players to look ahead and visualize what the board might look like in a few moves.
What keeps players interested is that the game is fun. For some players, competition and tournaments are a big part of the fun, but other players don’t play in the tournaments at all but keep going to the meetings, Gray said.
“They love the fun we have together, being with their friends in an organized activity after school, and challenging themselves with a game that is fun but also not too easily mastered,” he said.
Meeting new people at tournaments is fun too, fourth-grader Jenna Hinerman said. She is in her second year participating in Chess Guild and going to tournaments. Her brother, sixth-grader Jonathan, is in his third year participating and second year going to tournaments. Both siblings were interested in chess before joining the guild.
“I was taught by (Hillsboro Elementary School Principal) Mr. Yoder, and I taught her (Jenna) when she was younger,” Jonathan said.
Brother and sister play against each other often at home.
“He usually wins,” Jenna said, but she has bested him. The first time she won a match against Jonathan caught her by surprise.
“It was like, ‘Oh, yay,’” she said.
Jonathan and Jenna have qualified for the state tournament, although Jenna has a conflict and will not be able to go.
Other state qualifiers include high school students: Daniel Gray, Marshall Hoffner, Nodari Lomidze, and Justin King; middle schoolers: Reece Berens, Matthew Denholm, Jordan Fryhover, and Benjamin Koop; and elementary schoolers: Addie Berens, Jacob Denholm, Abigail Fryhover, Dakota Klein, Alex Lubbers, Brodie Rathbone, and Tristan Rathbone. The state tournament will be March 12 at Wichita State University.
The guild recently received a $350 Hillsboro Area Impact Fund grant from Hillsboro Community Foundation. The grant will allow the guild to continue offering chess lessons and paying students’ entry fees for tournaments, sponsor Janet Whisenhunt said.