Chess tourney draws more than 130

Though only in its second year, the district-wide chess tournament held at Crossroads School in Devlin is growing by leaps and bounds.
More than 130 students from 11 schools across the district descended on Crossroads last Thursday to test their skill against others in the four age groups.
“It went really well,” said Norma-Jean Johnston, a teaching assistant at Sturgeon Creek School and one of the organizers of the district tournament.
“What an opportunity for the students,” noted Crossroads principal Donna Kowalchuk, adding the game is becoming increasingly popular here.
“Most of the schools in our board [the Rainy River District School Board] have chess clubs now,” she remarked.
Because of the growing popularity of chess in district schools, Johnston has helped establish the Chess Association of the Rainy River District—a member of the Chess Federation of Canada.
The local public school board also has recognized chess as an extra-curricular activity, which helps when organizing events such as the tournament.
“I want the [board] to know how grateful we are. That single act just opened a lot of doors,” Johnston said.
The tournament is more than an opportunity for kids to compete, she added.
“Say you’ve got one or two kids in a classroom who play chess. They’re isolated,” she explained. “Putting them all together in one gym, you see there’s a lot of interest. The isolation is gone.
“They see there are lots of other kids that play.”
Chess, itself, is of great benefit to the students, Johnston added, saying scientific research has proven that “chess makes you smarter. It makes you strategize and think.”
The benefits are not limited to children who already perform well in school.
“Special ed. kids, and kids who are struggling in school, if they work at it and practice, their math marks and language marks will improve,” Johnston noted.
Ben Miller, a Grade 7 student at Sturgeon Creek School, is living proof of this.
In a presentation about chess to the Rainy River District School Board last year, Miller said his grades in math have gone up 25 percent since he began playing chess.
He also took first place last Thursday in the 12-13 age group, winning all five of his games.
Besides being a district chess champ, Miller travelled to Victoria, B.C. earlier this year to compete at the national level in the Canadian Youth Chess Championships.
One of the main differences between the local tournament and the national one was time, he noted.
“You get five hours to play, 30 seconds extra per move,” Miller said. “It’s pretty tough.”
He qualified for the nationals—where he placed 30th—at the regional tournament in Thunder Bay last October, and he plans to try to do it again this year.
“I’m going for it again,” he vowed.
While he generally does not get nervous before a game, Miller admitted the experience in B.C. was a little nerve-wracking.
John Rutherford of Thunder Bay, a.k.a. “The Chess Guy,” was on hand at Crossroads last Thursday to help run the tournament and hand out prizes.
Each student played five games against opponents in their age category: nine and under, 10-11, 12-13, and 14-15. Students who won all five of their games were reimbursed their $10 registration fee.
Other first-place winners were Maxwell Williams of Donald Young School (nine and under), Cody Mason of Sturgeon Creek School (10-11), and Jeremy Cole of the Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program (14-15).
Play began around 10:30 a.m. and continued until 2 p.m., at which time the scores were tabulated and ribbons awarded.
While waiting for the bus home, Taylor Windego, 12, and Todd Morrison, nine, both of Mine Centre Public School, played one last game for fun.
“I didn’t do so good,” Morrison said, smiling shyly. “I only won one game.”
Though she also only won one game, Windego said she had fun and was glad to participate.
A total of 86 students from the district qualified for the regional tourney in Thunder Bay on Oct. 22. And those who perform well there will go on to the nationals in Kitchener, Ont. next July.