COLUMBIA — The cafeteria at Lange Middle School was filled with noise and activity Saturday as parents and siblings waited on students playing rounds of the chess tournament in the gymnasium next door.
Impromptu chess games sprung up throughout the room. People ate, talked, studied, searched the Web and read. Two little girls played with Barbie dolls while another drew a picture. The running score for all of the participants in the tournament was posted on a wall.
In contrast, the gymnasium was quiet and orderly. Students sat in rows, focused on the chess boards in front of them. The only sounds were the clicks of chess pieces moving, the shifting of chairs and quiet statements of “check.”
The only people moving were the nine referees who checked the board before sending the players to parent volunteers to record their scores.
Lange Middle School hosted the annual Columbia Open Chess Tournament for the first time on Saturday. The competition is open to elementary and middle school students citywide.
Last year 102 players participated. This year 118 participated, once again breaking the record for the number of players in the tournament. Attendance has steadily risen since the tournament was first held in 1998, tournament director Charles Ward said.
Players were divided into three sections based on their age. They played four rounds, and each game lasted up to an hour. Medals were awarded to the players who scored in the top half of their section.
Division trophy winners were:
- Grades K-3 — Mason Cohen, second-grade, Columbia Independent School
- Grades 4-5 — Jeremy Zhang, fifth-grade, Fairview Elementary School
- Grades 6-7 – Zane Durante, sixth-grade, Gentry Middle School
All three received perfect 4.0 scores.
Jeremy was the only player in the fourth- to fifth-grade division to win all four of his games, so no tie-breaker was needed. However, two players in both the kindergarten through third-grade division and the sixth- through seventh-grade division won all four of their games, requiring championship play-offs.
The play-off round was just one of many games second-graders Maxwell Rodhouse and Mason have played against each other. The two are friends and classmates at Columbia Independent. It was a close, fast-paced game. When Ward declared Mason the winner, Mason replied, “Barely.”
Maxwell’s dad, Marcus Rodhouse, said it was the first time either of the boys made finals. Competing against each other in the play-offs “won’t affect their friendship at all,” he said. Maxwell and Mason watched the award ceremony side by side.
David Song, a sixth-grader from Smithton Middle School, competed against Zane in the championship speed chase game for the sixth- and seventh-grade division. The game was half the length of Maxwell and Mason's game.
This was the third year in a row that Zane competed in the tournament play-off game, but the first time that he won. The last two years, his friend Grant Roulier won.
“I’m happy that I won because the last two years I got second place," Zane said. "It feels good."
Plaques were awarded to the top school teams. The elementary school winners were:
- First place — Columbia Independent
- Second place — Mill Creek Elementary School
- Third place — Derby Ridge Elementary School
Gentry was the top middle school team.
Of the 118 participants in the tournament, fewer than 25 were girls. Erica Borcherding, one of the chess team sponsors at Lange, told fifth-grader Krystal Rivera she was happy to see her there.
“We need more girls,” Borcherding told Krystal.
Krystal first started playing chess two years ago when Borcherding was coaching the chess team at Field Elementary School. Krystal said she liked chess because “it helps your mind develop.”
At the award ceremony, Ward told the players to encourage their sisters to participate next year. Sixth-grade champion Zane doesn’t need to encourage his sister to play — Gianna Durante, a second-grader at Mill Creek, is already in the thick of things. She won three of her four games.