Eleven-year-old Vikram Arun has traveled as far as Orlando to participate in national chess competitions, but the Gentry Middle School sixth-grader spent Saturday participating in his hometown of Columbia.
Sixty-eight students from kindergarten through seventh grade competed in Saturday’s annual Columbia Open Chess Tournament hosted by Mill Creek Elementary School.
Vikram took home the trophy for first place overall in the middle school category, placing first in his category for the third consecutive year.
Though he tied for 20th place in the sixth-grade category at the U.S. Chess Federation National Scholastic K-12 Championship in Orlando in December, Vikram said he enjoys playing in local competitions as well.
“It was very exciting,” he said. “The players were pretty good.”
Charlie Ward, who has served as director of the tournament since 2001, first learned to play chess as an American high school student in Paris in the 1950s.
“I enjoy doing it because it’s really good for the kids,” Ward said. “They learn critical thinking. They really focus on something and see it through to the end.”
Ward said this year’s tournament was different for several reasons. He noticed an increase in female students, and this was also the first year middle school students have been invited to participate.
Eligible for the first time, Aishwary Kumar and Fawaz Hasnain were the only contestants from the seventh grade. After they tied in the final round, the two faced off in a speed chase game in which each player had five minutes to complete his or her moves.
Aishwary, who also participated in a tournament in Fulton, celebrated his first win Saturday.
“I like to go against people of my age,” Aishwary said. “I wanted to learn more, and I did.”
During an awards presentation ceremony, Ward recognized this year’s participants as the “best group of players in terms of conduct in the playing room.”
“You have a gym full of kids, and all you can hear is the chess pieces moving,” Ward said. “That tells the whole story.”
Ward said he’d like to look into the possibility of offering a tournament for high school students in the future so current participants will have an opportunity to continue after middle school.
Ward said there are other opportunities for individuals who don’t fall in the age parameters for the Columbia Open Chess Tournament. He is a certified tournament director and organizes several U.S. Chess Federation-rated tournaments in Columbia each year.
The next event, sponsored by the MU Chess Club, will take place on June 16 at Memorial Union at MU. Next year’s Columbia Open Chess Tournament will be hosted by Grant Elementary School.