A team of five students from the Price Middle School Chess Team recently attended the US Chess Federation’s National Junior High Championship in Grapevine, TX. The nascent players, three of whom were brand new to chess this year, took home sixth place after competing against some of the brightest young minds in the country. In addition to a National victory, they gained confidence, self-esteem and friends. They left Atlanta as chess players but returned as champions.
Below is Coach Marian Edmonds’ account of the events.
By: Marian Edmonds
We did it…. again! We went to the US Chess National tournament and won. This year we placed 6th overall in the unrated division. Our students proved to themselves and others that they can compete against the best in the nation. The Price Middle School national chess team consisted of our school’s top five players who earned spots with their performances at the state tournament on March 26. Team members included: Jaleel Lester (8th), Omari Davidson (8th), Lafayette Jones (7th), Chase King (7th), and Ricardo Blanco Solis (6th).
Three of the five students were new to chess this year, and the state qualifier on March 5 was their first tournament experience ever. The team performed magnificently at the state qualifier and easily earned a spot in the state tournament. The state tournament on March 26 was our group’s second ever tournament and first rated event.
The US Chess National Middle School Championship was a three-day tournament held at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, TX. The flight to Dallas, TX was thrilling and a little scary for our students. None had been on an airplane before, and they soaked everything in. That first night in Grapevine, we visited the historic downtown, ate plates piled high with Texas burgers and fries, and drank unlimited amounts of soda. The boys practiced chess and went to bed eager for the morning and the start of the tournament to arrive.
We got to the tournament venue early so our team could have plenty of time to warm up and get comfortable. The Gaylord Texan Resort is an enormous, lavish resort with a stone lobby, massive indoor fountains and gardens, soaring ceilings and opulent finishes.
Close to 1,000 students were participating, and we saw hundreds sprawled over the plush leather sofas and chairs in the lobby when we got to the resort. Everyone was playing chess on every possible surface including the floors. Our kids instantly gathered around games and asked to play the next match. Those first few hours our Price students were introduced to kids from all over the country. They instantly and naturally started talking the common language of chess openings, defenses and strategies.
I could feel our students’ confidence growing as they played practice match after practice match against their new friends and realized they too belonged at this national tournament. My heart was bursting with pride as I listened in on their conversations about chess openings and defenses. I loved watching them as they realized they fit in here with some of the country’s brightest young people. They were every bit as good at chess as most of these other kids and their confidence soared. Round One was very successful. Three of our five players had wins.
Round Two started at 7 p.m. and our students were confident, but tired. It was a late night. We had two wins in Round 2, both from our 8th graders who had lost in Round One so we ended the day with every student securing a win in their first National tournament. We felt proud, exhilarated and exhausted. Our students had been playing chess just about nonstop since 10 a.m. It was time for rest.
The first round started at 9 a.m. We had a great round with several wins. After their matches, our students wanted to join some of their new friends in their private team room.
Their team was from Brooklyn, NY and had about 12 players at the tournament, a team mom, some teachers, and their chess coach. The Brooklyn team welcomed us all into their room, shared their food and fellowship. Our students eagerly played practice matches with their new friends.
The days played out pretty much the same. Lots and lots of chess, new friends and, most importantly, the pride and confidence our students gained as we won more and more matches. Notation was one of our weaknesses this year. Without regular tournaments to practice at, some of our players found notating to be distracting and stressful. However, notation is required at the National tournament, and our players quickly adapted. They made a few mistakes in their notation in the early rounds, which we discovered when they would replay their match for us and narrate all their moves and their opponent’s moves complete with commentary and analysis. By the second day everyone was notating flawlessly, and the aftergame analysis proved to be invaluable. Our players were critiquing and analyzing each other.
There was a chess master available who would analyze matches for free, and we all gathered around after several of the matches and learned from his deep and constructive analysis.
We woke up confident and ready to compete on the tournament’s last day. Everyone was feeling excited about the final two rounds of matches. The students understood the value of patience and their final matches lasted close to two hours. Everyone appeared calm; every move was reasoned and deliberate as they calculated the consequences of potential moves and studied the board from their opponent’s perspective as well as their own. I remember calling our principal of Price Middle School, Luqman Abdur Rahman, and telling him I thought we would end up finishing in the top 10, or maybe even as high as top five. I couldn’t contain my elation and pride that this group of largely inexperienced chess players from Price Middle School was able to come to a national tournament and win. We marveled at our students’ resilience, courage and brilliance.
The tournament ended late Sunday afternoon, and Price Middle School finished 6th place in our division. We were so happy and proud.
Most importantly, our students had the opportunity to sit across the table from some of the brightest young minds in our country. They competed, they won, and they saw that they can stand next to anyone. At the end of the tournament, it was nearly impossible to pry our students away from their new friends. They all continued to gather around our tables playing chess. Our trip to Texas was a game changer for our students. They naturally and immediately bonded with other middle school students from across the country and learned that they are just like other chess-playing middle schoolers from any type of background.