Invitational draws kings, queens, pawns


Contributing writer

So quiet you could hear a pin drop . . . or a chess piece move, as was the case Saturday when Hillsboro High School hosted its first-ever K-12 Chess Invitational.

Despite the inclement weather, icy roads, and chilly temperatures, the tournament drew more than 60 players from as far away as Wichita and Valley Center, and as near as Canton-Galva, not to mention the hometown team of 19 elementary, middle, and high school students. Twice that number were originally expected to compete.

The tournament was run under the rules of the Kansas Scholastic Chess Association (KSCA), the organization with which Hillsboro's club is affiliated.

The KSCA includes any student player in the K-12 system, whether public, private, or home-schooled. Floyd Geasland represented the organization and served as the tournament coordinator.

Individual players chose whether to compete with players at the elementary school (K-5), middle school (K-8), or high school (K-12) levels.

Pairings were made in the Swiss style, meaning every student played every round, and players were paired as evenly as possible throughout the tournament so that two players who had lost every other game would be paired together in the last round to give each a "fighting chance."

Another unique feature of play in a chess tournament is a rule that allows players to take a break from play, even in the middle of a match. Players can get up to stretch, eat, use the restroom, or just take a breather from the intensity of competition.

Unfortunately, this rule can lead to some confusion when a player is unsure whether their teammate's abrupt exit means victory by resignation or just a pause in play.

"My player just took off . . . he's gone," said Arthur Hunt, a high-school level participant from Northeast Magnet. When the scorekeeper told him his opponent had admitted defeat, which registered Hunt as the winner of the match, all the lanky teenager could say in reply was, "Oh."

The day of competition began with registration at 8:30 a.m., rounds of play from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and an awards ceremony to cap off the day

Hillsboro took fourth place at the high school level, with Michael Christian placing sixth out of 36 competitors.

Other competitors were John Bartel, 20th; Cody Blackketter, 23rd; Kyle Tucker, 24th; Matthew Richert, 25th; Colby Meier, 26th; Jonathan Christian, 29th; Allister Young, 30th; Josh Elliott, 31st; George Steketee, 32nd; Justin King, 33rd; James Letterman, 34th; Sara Jones, 35th; and Jennifer Tucker, 36th.

Jacob Humber placed 15th out of 16 middle school-level competitors. His placement single-handedly earned the Hillsboro Middle School's team a sixth place finish out of six teams. Humber came into the tournament unrated, indicating his standing as a novice in the KSCA.

Hillsboro Elementary School took second out of three teams, with Grant Knoll earning a third-place medal; Jordan Fryhover, fifth; Reece Berens, ninth; and Dermot Morey, 10th. Each player entered the tournament unrated.

Tom Brownscombe, executive director of World Champion Anatoly Karpov International School of Chess and a teaching coach for the Hillsboro Chess Club was at the tournament to encourage his students.

When asked who he would most like to play at chess, and giving a gamut of options including Jesus and Homer Simpson, he laughed and said, "You give those options and I'm thinking Karparov vs. 'Anny', [the immediate past and current reigning world chess champions].

Finally, Brownscombe settled on 'Anny,' Viswanathan Anand, as any chess player would jump at the chance to test their mettle against the best in the world.

Competitors in Saturday's competition included the Purdy Chess Club, a home-school family of 10 players who took first in the tournament at the high-school level and third at the elementary-school level, earning five individual medals.

Northeast Magnet School of Wichita took second at the high-school level.

Canton-Galva's high school team placed third and middle school team placed ninth, both playing at the high-school level.

Valley Center's middle school team took first place in that level of play and the high school team took seventh.

Robinson Middle School of Wichita took second in the middle school division.

Northfield School was eighth in high school competition and third in the middle school level; McPherson Middle School, fourth; and Stucky Middle School of Wichita, fifth.

Mulvane High School's only competitor took fifth place in that level of play.

Robinson Middle School placed sixth in the high school level of competition.

Many parents, educators, and other community members volunteered to help with the tournament.

Jim Elliott, whose son Joshua competed, greeted teams at the door and helped with score-keeping. Karen Elliott was in charge of hospitality for coaches.

Janet Whisenhunt, school librarian and head coach, took care of the detail work, making sure every part of the tournament ran smoothly.

Nick and Ronda King, and their son Jonathan, helped with concessions and score-keeping while their son Justin competed.

"So far, all of the Purdys have won," Nick noted, as another Purdy team member stepped up to acknowledge his victory.

The commons room, where concessions were served, was deemed the "Skittles" room for the tournament, acknowledging a Hillsboro Chess Club tradition of eating Skittles after the second round of play.

Also spotted at the tournament were a number of teachers stopping by just to encourage their students.

"Not much of a spectator sport, is it?" asked Bob Woelk, high school English teacher and yearbook sponsor.

Perhaps not to Woelk, but for the crowd of parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, community members, and chess enthusiasts, the tournament Saturday was a day to watch, a day to cheer, and a day to remember.

Hillsboro Chess Club members who qualify through local and regional tournament play will go on to compete at the state level later this winter.