Chess tournament at Gentry Middle School draws record crowd

Saturday, February 20, 2010 | 5:33 p.m. CST; updated 10:28 p.m. CST, Saturday, February 20, 2010
Matthew Hoeppner, left, a sixth-grader, and Bob Herting, right, a seventh-grader, play speed chess for the tiebreaker for the sixth- and seventh-grade category at Gentry Middle School Saturday. Herting won the match.

COLUMBIA — The few sounds in the Gentry Middle School on Saturday were chess pieces clicking on boards and the occasional muffled “check” or “good game."

The middle school hosted the annual Columbia Open Chess Tournament, a citywide elementary and middle school competition for students ranging from kindergarten to seventh grade living in the Columbia School District.

According to Denise Zimny, a Gentry guidance counselor and sponsor of the school's chess club, the tournament has run for 13 years. It drew the largest crowd on record Saturday with 103 players.

Buzz Bledsoe, a parent organizer and former chess club coach at Gentry, said 75-80 kids entered in 2009.

Bledsoe, now the chess coach at Jefferson Junior High, described the type of chess the students played as Swiss tournament. Players enter all four rounds of the game, each lasting up to 45 minutes, so that every child can participate in the entire tournament.

He said the students are matched with others who have similar records. Eventually the finalists are two students who have won all the rounds.

A winning student earned one point and the student who lost earned no points. A draw was awarded half a point.

Tim Campbell, assistant director of the tournament, said the students are divided into groups with grades K-3, 4-5 and 6-7 to maintain similar maturity levels. 

According to Campbell, several students have competed on state chess teams, another reason to separate based on grade.

The main point of the tournament, he said, is “getting the kids the chance to compete with other kids.”

Initial words of wisdom to the competitors came from Charles Ward , another tournament organizer.

“No talking.  Only chess words.”

Before the participants began to play, 12-year-old Jacob Gerhard,  a sixth-grader at Gentry, dealt with pregame jitters.

“I’m excited but a little bit nervous,” he said. He has played chess since age 5. His mother, Julea Gerhard, said she was pleased he wanted to try his first tournament

Marlin Dade Jr., a fifth grader at Grant Elementary, won his first two rounds then lost the third. He said the “multi-step thinking” is the hardest part of the game.

By the end of the last round, the winner of the K-3 category was 7-year-old Nathan Herting,  a second-grader from Mill Creek Elementary School. The other groups had to wage tiebreakers. 

Ten-year-old Zane Durante,  a fifth-grader at Mill Creek, had won the previous round when Jeremy Zhang, a fourth-grader at Fairview Elementary School, resigned.

Zane and 11-year-old Grant Roulier, also in fifth grade at Mill Creek and last year’s tournament champion for the 4-5 grades group, competed for the championship.

“It’s a very complicated strategy,” Zane said before the match-up. He and Grant are also friends and have both been playing chess since they were 5, which added a twist to the match.

In the tiebreaking round, the two friends played a timed “speed chess.” If neither wins in the allotted time, the player whose time runs out faster loses.

The game was close and intense, but Grant pulled out his second consecutive win.

In the 6-7 grades category, 12-year-old Bob Herting, a seventh-grader at Gentry, competed with sixth-grader Matthew Hoeppner , also at Gentry, to break the tie. Bob emerged as the victor among middle school players.

All competitors whoearned two points received a medal, and the winners of their age groups were awarded trophies. Tournament overseers also gave plaques to the overall schools that won, based on the top four scores of individuals from the school.

Gentry was the middle school winner. Among the elementary schools, Mill Creek won first place, Grant Elementary School was second and Columbia Independent School was third.

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