Published: Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 10:34 PM     Updated: Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 10:35 PM

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By Vic Monaco
Special to the Times

EAST WINDSOR — Many parents have a hard time getting their kids to put down their video games.

Katerina Varsou and Taragay Oskiper can’t get their young triplets — Andreas, Nicholas and Constantine Oskiper — to put down their kings, queens and knights.

The three have become chess fanatics since they learned the game just one year ago.
“They would all chase us with the chess board once they knew how to play,” said Varsou, of Sussex Lane.

More astounding is that at age 7 the trio this month won the first-grade team championship at the National K-12 Chess Championship in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where about 150 first-graders competed earlier this month. Officials of the U.S. Chess Federation said it was almost certainly the first time triplets had won a national scholastic team championship.

Their coaches at the private SciCore Academy for Science and the Humanities, in Hightstown, say their young students are amazing.

“They love the game,” said head coach Miguel Iñiguez, who used to work at Princeton Day School. “They don’t get tired; they don’t get bored. And the support of their mother is great. You put that all together and you see success.”

Varsou said her sons became interested when they saw classmates taking part in the chess club at SciCore, where chess also is part of the curriculum. Having learned the game from her father in Greece at age 4, Varsou said she promised her own children that she would teach them and they could join the club at the beginning of 2010.

“In about a month they knew how to move all the pieces and started playing real games,” she said. “Constantine liked it the most. He wanted to play day and night.”

“When I started teaching them, I wanted them to learn how to think and develop their brains,” Varsou said. Goal setting, strategy, and persistence were other things she thought the game could teach, said Varsou, who, like her husband, holds a doctorate in electrical engineering. “ I think it will serve them well.”

Iñiguez, a native Ecuadorean who lives in New York, said he didn’t learn the game until he was 22. Chess was a revelation to him. “I was very disorganized. I learned you need to have a discipline and you need to make plans,” he said.

“It changed my life, so I had to teach it,” said Iñiguez.

“When you teach little ones, they learn very early that that’s what you need,” he said. “And they’ll perform better in school, in reading and math. It also helps them to be more responsible. Chess players don’t blame others. They know when they lose that they did something wrong.”

Constantine, known as Costas, may not realize all that. He sums up his passion for chess in two words: “It’s fun.”

The New York Times contributed to this report.