The Taos Knighthawks Chess Club picked up seven medals at the State Grade Level Championships, a nationally sanctioned tournament held at Mandela International Magnet School in Santa Fe on May 19. …
The Taos Knighthawks Chess Club picked up seven medals at the State Grade Level Championships, a nationally sanctioned tournament held at Mandela International Magnet School in Santa Fe on May 19. The team is composed of around 100 Taos county players from kindergarten through high school who meet once a week during the school year, usually at Anansi Charter School. Among the highlights of the team's final competition of the season was crowning the club's first kindergarten state champion.
Unlike the bracketing of a baseball or soccer tournament, chess tournaments are played for points. Each player plays the same number of games. For each game they win, they are awarded 1 point. For a draw they get half a point, and for a loss they get no points. The player with the most points wins.
Kindergartener Elijah Shelton of Anansi Charter School won his first five games and then had a stalemate draw with teammate Nina Gilroy, who won the silver medal. Shelton's five and a half points put him clearly in the lead of the bracket of kindergarten and first-grade students. Shelton's win comes after playing chess with the club for a only a few months, during which he has made phenomenal progress. "Watch for him in the future," said coach Dennis Hedges. "Thanks to his play with his dad and some coaching from his older brother, he's caught the chess fever."
Shelton's second-grade brother, Giles, scored 3.5 out of 6 points, just missing first place. He took home the silver medal.
The field of third-graders was packed with strong players from around the state. Antonio Trivino just missed first place with a misstep in his last game. He received the silver medal with 3 out of 5 points, ahead of his Taos teammates Evan Pena and Jonah Gilroy, who also competed.
The most competitive section of the tourney was sixth grade. Anansi student Sean Ritchie easily won his first game and then faced his perennial rival Joseph Wang of Albuquerque. Wang had beaten Ritchie in their last five matchups and was going for his sixth straight state championship. But Ritchie wasn't intimidated. He took his time, played good solid chess and claimed the victory. One of the participants called the game "legendary." Ritchie was later defeated but still scored 3 out of 5 for the bronze medal. Teammate Michaela Trivino scored 2 out of 5.
Among the seventh-graders, Lukas Backer of Taos Middle School picked up a bronze medal with 3 out of 5 points. Backer's father and uncle were part of the National Knighthawks team back in the early '90s when it was one of the elite teams in the country.
Finally, in the tenth-grade section, Vista Grande High School student Jaimie Ritchie just missed first place overlooking a simple move in the last 30 seconds of the game. Going into the tourney, Ritchie was ranked the second highest girl in the entire state.
"It was a fun way to finish our 30th year," said Knighthawk coach Hedges, who started the club with Liz Moya and Patsy Baca in 1988. He thanked all the parents and former students who had helped out during the year. Prospective players can contact coach Hedges at firstname.lastname@example.org. The club is funded through parents, donations and grants, with some help from the schools; no student has been turned away for lack of financial resources.
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