The DeSoto County School’s district wide chess tournament is giving 480 students a chance to test their wit and strategy against their peers.

The tournament is a long standing tradition which started when students from Southaven Elementary challenged students at Oak Grove Elementary to a chess tournament.

When two of the students who participated in the first tournament changed schools to Walls Elementary, the tournament spread to three schools and eventually the entire county.

Southaven Middle School formed a chess club at the beginning of the year and now has more than 100 members.

“For a lot of the kids who do well in chess, they don’t have something they’re really good at and they can have this and it’s positive,” said Alan Underwood, chess club coach at Southaven Middle School. “We actually have one student that is in special education but a really good chess player and we have spotlight students and then everything in between.”

The students at the tournament were as varied as Underwood described, some in letterman jackets, some with Mohawk haircuts, some big and some small.

“I had one student say, ‘I beat this kid who is bigger and taller than I am,'” said Julie Nelson, a gifted teacher at Center Hill Middle School.

The students are competing for individual 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophies in each age group as well as team trophies. Each school is scored and the top three are given 1st, 2nd or 3rd place trophies.

Grey Hollowell, eighth grade student at Center Hill Middle School, has been playing chess for four years and did very well in the first three rounds.

“I won my first three games, it hasn’t been too hard so far,” Hallowell said. “Chess is a challenge but once you learn it, it’s really fun to play. That’s why I like it.”

Emily Nelson, executive director of leadership development for DeSoto County Schools, organizes the tournament but she gives all of the credit to the teachers and the parent volunteers.

One of those volunteers, Louie Smith, is a certified assistant tournament director with the United States Chess Federation.

“I just want to help the kids out; it’s rewarding to them,” Smith said. “Chess is good for their academics, improves test scores. It’s a great exercise of the mind.”

Thursday’s tournament is at the Bank Plus Training Center in Southaven.

Check for a video of the second day’s competition.