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Checkmate!

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“No matter what kids are doing now, if they start playing chess, they will get better at what they do.”

That’s what John Rutherford, co-ordinator of the COREL Northwestern Ontario Schools Chess Championships, believes. And if he’s right, then 18 youngsters who participated in a regional chess tournament here yesterday might be at the head of their class.

The tournament, held at St. Francis School, attracted 15 students from there, two from J.W. Walker, and one from the high school competing in two age groups during five half-hour games each.

The event took up most of the day and in the end, 11 students walked away with the chance to compete in the finals Oct. 23 in Thunder Bay.

Local qualifiers in the 10-12 age group included Josh Tovey, Jake Gill, Jenn Green, Adam Gruttner, and Fallon Flinders (St. Francis), Stephen Robertson (J. W. Walker), and Ghislain Godin (L’Ecole Francais de Fort Frances).

Justin Sanders (Fort High), Mark Buist (J.W. Walker), and Gary Lambert and Chelsea Derkson (St. Francis) qualified in the 13-15 age category.

Four champs from the Thunder Bay finals will have the chance to attend the nationals in Edmonton next summer.

“It was a strong tourney and a fun thing to do,” Rutherford said late yesterday. He was particularly keen on the outcome of the “simuls”--a special “one on one” game played after the awards ceremony.

“It’s a game where I play everyone at once. The kids all want to play the chess guy,” he chuckled.

“There were three kids who beat me. They were quite strong,” he admitted.

Rutherford said his strategy in “simuls” begins by playing the first seven or eight chess pieces on each board in the same order. Once the students figure out what he’s doing, the real game kicks in.

“At the end, all of them have fought different battles because they’ve made different choices,” he noted.

Rutherford also noted computers and the Internet were playing a new role in the game of chess. Nowadays, computer programs can be the opponent--as can someone you can’t even see who’s playing on-line in another part of the world.

“One kid I’ve talked to said he’s playing chess [on-line] with people in California and North Carolina and he finds himself stronger [at the game] than most other kids,” said Rutherford.

Last year, the COREL championships attracted more than 570 students from Kenora to Hearst and Wawa, and 225 qualified for the finals in Thunder Bay.

This year, Rutherford expected 300-400 students would take part in the regional tournaments, with a comparable number to last year at the finals later this month.

In an effort to bring even more students into the competition, cash prizes--to help defray travel costs for the finalists in October--will be awarded directly in proportion to the total number of participants in the region.

The City of Thunder Bay also is providing a cash grant per out-of-town visitor at the finals. So more regional participants means more visitors, which translates directly into more funds for the effort.

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