Click photo to enlarge

Three Cupertino youngsters recently returned from Greece, where they found themselves united with hundreds of other children from all around the world over the global game of chess.

The young chess players returned from Greece after competing in 11 grueling matches at the 2010 World Youth Chess Championship in Halkidiki. The prestigious tournament was held Oct. 20-30 and was sponsored by the World Chess Federation. An estimated 1,000 young players of various ages and representing dozens of countries participated in the competition.

Two localplayers fared well in their 9-10 age division. Cameron Wheeler, a fifth-grade student at Regnart Elementary School, placed fifth in the division while

Vignesh Panchanatham, a fifth-grader at Murdock-Portal Elementary School, came in ninth. Kesav Viswanadha, a sixth-grade student at Kennedy Middle School, competed in the 11-12 age division and finished outside the top 25.

The players were invited to the tournament based on their rankings in previous tournaments and after sending in letters of intent to tournament officials. The tournament was a grueling marathon of 11 games in 11 days, each with more pressure than the last. All the friendly practice games and training before the tournament could not compare to the white-knuckle tension of global competitive chess.

“I was very nervous; there was a lot of pressure on me,” Cameron, 10, said. “Usually, if I play against [friends],

I am just playing for fun, but this was different.”

Due to the time some chess games can take, the tournament had a “one game per day” scheduling system, which allowed players to find out about their opponents the night before the match so they could prepare specifically for that opponent. The tournament also brought a more serious tone of play and more opportunities for learning.

“In the tournament, things were a lot more proper,” said Kesav, 11. “When you play against people you do

not know you have a chance to improve a lot more. When you play against friends, you know them very well and you know what they are going to do.”

Players found it difficult to communicate with some of their non-English speaking opponents, but once the games began, everyone was united.

“We all speak chess,” said Kesav.

The players were blessed with a single day of rest in the middle of the tournament. It was an opportunity to explore the major Greek city of Thessaloniki and take a needed break from looming over their chess pieces. The kids played soccer, went shopping, visited museums, snapped pictures of historical sites and took a swim.

“It was really fun, and we got to do a lot of cool things,” Cameron said.


three boys developed an affinity for chess very early in life; they have been playing the game for close to half their lives.

“When I was around 4 years old, I saw someone play and it looked pretty fascinating, and someone was hired by my family to teach me,” Kesav said.

Cameron took an interest in the game when he was about 6 years old. Neither of his parents play, but he was hooked after playing with a chess computer program. As soon as he got interested in the game, his parents nurtured his talent.

Cameron plays computer chess games about every other day for practice, and he gets lessons with a coach three times a week. Cameron is tutored by Los Gatos resident Steven Zierk, who took home first place in the under-18

division of the tournament. The 17-year-old Los Gatos High School senior has been working with Cameron on his chess skills for a few months. Zierk is the first American to win the under-18 division.

Vignesh, 10, tries to play a game every day and is constantly reading books on tactics and game theory. Kesav practices more by reading and studying tactics through books rather than through games. However, he still logs on to the Internet a few times a week to duel chess players from all over the world.

The players’ parents are thrilled with their children’s success and talent, but they also want to keep things in perspective and keep their children well rounded.

“I think it’s great, but I am worried about all the pressure,”

said Kerrie Utsumi, Cameron’s mother. “I think he has the ability to handle it; he does not wear his emotion on his sleeve. But when you think of all that pressure on a 10-year-old, it can worry you.”

The three players have become friends through chess after playing against one another at previous tournaments, and they all plan to share their chess skills with the community.

Cameron’s father helped start a chess team at Regnart Elementary and Cameron is helping new players learn the game and improve. Kesav recently joined the chess club at his school, and Vignesh is trying to teach his younger brother.

The three chess stars believe that the 1,000-year-old game can appeal to any young boy or girl, as it can be just as intense as other games.

“It’s a lot of fun to play, and a lot of the fun on the board comes from moves on offense that are a lot like other sports,” said Vignesh.

After returning home on Oct. 31, the three players weighed the blessing and the burden of missing school for about two weeks.

“I had a lot of homework when I came back,” Kesav said. “My teachers gave me piles that were really, really high.”