Young chess masters flex brains at Southern California state championships

Two competitors engage in a battle of wit at the Southern California State Scholastic Chess Championship at the Hyatt in Valencia Sunday afternoon. Cory Rubion/The Signal

Parents, coaches and eager, young chess masters crowded into the halls, patios and conference rooms of the Hyatt Regency Valencia for the annual Southern California SuperStates Scholastic State Chess Championships on Sunday.

This was the 22nd year that Jay Stallings and his California Youth Chess League have hosted the state championships in Santa Clarita and the ninth year that the tournament has been held at the Hyatt.

“The first tournament we ran had around 200 people and we have 570 here this weekend everywhere from Bakersfield to San Diego,” Stallings said. “The kids are able to get a renewed passion for the game and with so many competitors here, they’re more likely to find someone who is closer to their skill level.”

The competition was broken into different age groups and was open to members of the US Chess Federation. Over two days, the young chess players competed in five rounds of two games each to assert their mental dominance over their peers in both team and individual divisions. In addition to the traditional chess competitions, SuperStates held tournaments for speed chess and for different variations on the traditional game.

J.J. Arrington, a Castaic resident, has played chess for three years and competed in SuperStates for the second time on Sunday and said he performed better this year.  

“I started playing chess because I saw people at my school going to chess club and I wanted to come to this tournament because it would help me become a ranked player,” Arrington said. “Tournament play is a bit more pressure than chess club but I enjoy the different style of playing the game.”

Robert Romano, who teaches chess at Laurence School in Van Nuys, brought eight students to the tournament.

“We’ve come to this tournament for four years now and field of competitors here is a lot tougher than others we have been to,” Romano said. “It’s great that chess still has so many young enthusiasts because it’s like the anti-technology: technology is quick and fast but with chess you have to be patient and think it through.”

Three of Romano‘s students, Calvin Kim, Alex Galstian and Maxwell Weidenfeld practiced with each other in between rounds. While Romano was concerned that the two-games-per-round format would be tiring for his students, they accepted the challenge.

“It’s more tiring to have more rounds, but it’s more enjoyable because you get to play more chess,” Kim said.

Galstian added that it was more fun and less disappointing to play two games per round because if a player lost once there was an immediate chance at redemption.

Stallings said that he is proud to see that the tournament has grown over the years and that the youth chess community continues to thrive.

“Where I grew up there weren’t many scholastic tournaments and I had to play in adult tournaments since I was nine years old,” Stallings said. “There are kids here who have been playing for years and those who only learned chess a few months ago. My favorite part of all of this is seeing kids who I may not really know but  who know me telling me about the checkmates they got or when I’m comforting a player who didn’t have such a great match. As long as everyone has a good time, it’s a great tournament. “

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