â€œCheckmate,â€ the Oak Hall School kindergartner said softly to his opponent, 24-year-old assistant chess team coach Arthur Edwards.
They might be shorter than their trophies, but Frederick and his teammates make up for their lack of height with their amount of skill.
Oak Hall School’s kindergarten team and Joseph Williams Elementary School’s fourth-grade team both won the U.S. Chess Federation’s National Grade Level Championships over the past weekend in Orlando. More than 1,300 students from 43 states competed in the event.
It was the fourth national title for Oak Hall School, coach Tim Tusing said. His students practice at least four hours per week during chess club. Many of the chess club members also have personal coaches.
â€œEven at 5 and 6, the maturity level is vast,â€ Tusing said. â€œSome of them act like miniature adults.â€
The team consisted of Frederick, Mariam Abd-El-Barr, Avery Bernstein, Blake Cornwell, Nicholas Dang, Aidan Griffin, Isabelle Tseng and McKayla Ro.
Frederick, who Tusing said knew very little English when he started to play, was named the competition’s top unrated player.
â€œHe’s our quiet master,â€ Edwards said. â€œHe may not talk much, but he’ll beat you in a game.â€
Nicholas Dang, 6, said that while he plays he tries to remember to be a good sportsman. Losing with dignity is a good lesson to learn, Tusing said.
â€œIf they do that properly, then they’ll learn to win,â€ he said.
Tusing said the dedication of the students shows when they sit down for a game, which can take hours.
â€œMost of these children didn’t know how to play chess in September,â€ he said. â€œAnd now it’s December, and we’re national champions.â€
Although they’re small virtuosos, the simple things still get them excited. Edwards, an Oak Hall alumnus, gives out Pepperidge Farm Chessman cookies when the students do exceptionally well on chess puzzles.
Beth Rosenson said she’s proud of her son, Avery Bernstein, and was surprised Gainesville did well against larger metropolitan areas.
â€œIt’s amazing to me because I don’t even know how the knights move,â€ she said.
Williams Elementary fourth-graders tied with schools from New Jersey and Louisiana for the championship, said George Pyne of Alachua County Scholastic Chess. It was the first championship for the school. The fifth-grade team finished in sixth place.
The fourth-grade team has three members: Abhimanyu Banerjee, Cindy Jie and Jackie Liu. The top three players, or â€œboards,â€ count for the team score.
â€œAll of the fourth-graders had to perform at the maximum to get the score we got,â€ Pyne said.
Cindy Jie, 9, was named 10th overall for her division. She said she became interested in chess when she saw other children playing it but sticks with it for the social benefits.
â€œYou can visit everywhere, and you can make much more friends,â€ she said.
During bouts, she gets nervous, Cindy said, but mostly she’s tired after playing for hours.
â€œEvery game takes me at least two hours,â€ she said. â€œOnce, I played 19 moves for two hours. I stopped for 30 minutes without making a move.â€
Pyne said the students play Lincoln Middle School students weekly to hone their skills.
â€œI think it teaches kids about concentration, and also I think it’s very empowering,â€ he said. â€œYou’re all alone at the chess board. The whole game is up to you.â€
After that, Pyne said, most life challenges are easy to tackle.
Abhimanyu Banerjee, 9, said he likes chess because it’s something he excels at.
His father, Subho Bandyopadhyay, said it’s exciting to watch his son play, although he doesn’t play himself.
â€œEven though I don’t understand it, I understand how he feels,â€ he said.
Contact Jackie Alexander at 338-3166.