LEOMINSTER –The media center at Johnny Appleseed Elementary School was filled with the staccato thuds and thunks of five simultaneous chess matches Thursday.
Players’ pieces thudded as they moved them, followed by a thunk as players hit the timers on clocks keeping track of how long they waited to move a knight or rook.
Johnny Appleseed edged out Twin City Christian School of Lunenburg 3-2 in the 30/30 smash tournament, meaning each player had a total of 30 minutes to move their pieces before a winner was declared.
Only the deciding match between Reid Losey, of Johnny Appleseed, and Jared Saye, of Twin City, went the distance.
Losey won on points and positioning to close out the team match, said coach Kevin Caefer.
“They played a very good game, both of them,” Caefer said.
Losey looked worn out by the time his match ended after nearly 60 minutes of combined time.
“That was a long game,” the fifth-grader said.
Chess matches are typically physically and mentally draining, Caefer said.
Johnny Appleseed revived its chess club three years ago.
Its only opponent last year was Twin City and going into the first match of the year Thursday both teams still had only each other to play.
Caefer and Twin City coach David Allard are hoping to find more schools to take part in tournaments
Caefer cheered his players when he pulled out red team shirts, but also spent time huddling with the team to give last minute tips
before Twin City arrived.
“The thing is, be patient,” he cautioned. “That’s number one.”
Caefer told players to concentrate on the board, not to the other player and not to talk during a match.
Always anticipate the opponents move and when you decide what move to make, stop and look for an alternate move, he said.
The Johnny Appleseed team has about 25 players from grades 2-5 but only five play during matches.
Practice is held on Thursdays.
Caefer is a competitive
player himself and studies under David Vigorito, of Somerville, an international master ranked in the top 50 players in the country.
The club is not an after-school drop-off center for parents, he said.
“I’m going to teach them the right way or not at all,” Caefer said.
They learn tactics, famous players and the history of the game, as well as how to log all their moves during a game.
Johnny Appleseed instituted a chess club around 1996 but it faded away before its revival three years ago, said Vice Principal Jim Burns, a former coach.
The game builds critical thinking and communication skills, but also keeps young players thinking in organized fashion, he said.
The methods and routines used in the game help fashion analytical skills, Burns said.
“We try to make it not only a fun activity but one that will be a lifelong activity that will help them be successful in school and life,” he said.
Allard agreed the game offers educational and recreational benefits.
“I think it’s good for the kids because it teaches logical thinking, analyzes situations and to think ahead,” Allard said. “I think it carries over to other things like school.”
Blyth Saye, of Fitchburg, and Chris Gauthier, of Mason, N.H., have children who play for the Twin City team and traveled to Johnny Appleseed to watch.
Chess helps young people get out of the rut of taking part in passive pastimes, Gauthier said.
“I think it stimulates the minds in a different way than they are used to, beside Nintendo DSI and television,” he said. “It gets them off the electronics.”
Julian Kos helps Caefer with the Johnny Appleseed team so he was on-hand Thursday even though his son is scheduled to play in the next tournament.
Chess should be considered an endangered sport because so many children play field sports instead, but they can be just as enthused about chess when they decide to play, he said.
“They seem to be really intrigued by the logic and mathematics of it,” Kos said.