Each year, Valley Center High School chess club coach Cory Laflin poses a challenge to his aspiring chess champions: “If you win a tournament or have two players first in the top three … I will wear the kilt to state.”
This time, Valley Center junior Tanner Wray, one of eight on Laflin’s team, went undefeated at two tournaments.
Laflin’s kilt — traditional, formal Celtic garb — brushed his knees as he scanned the latest state chess tournament results Saturday afternoon.
Chess is serious, he explained, chuckling. But not too serious.
Valley Center students were among 609 school-aged children ages 4 to 19 who participated in the State Scholastic Chess Tournament, held Saturday at The Independent School in Wichita. The contenders — some who started playing chess before they could read or write — came from 139 public, private, parochial and home schools statewide.
Bishop Carroll freshman Joshua Burns, 15, learned chess in first grade from his father, Robert Burns, who coaches the chess club at west Wichita’s St. Francis of Assisi School.
Heading into his sixth and final match, the lanky teen exuded calm. He said he was “feeling pretty good” and looked forward to adding another win to his 3 1/2 victories.
Saturday’s high school division winner will advance to the Denker Tournament of High School Champions; the K-8 champion will compete in a similar contest, the Dewain Barber Tournament. Both are set for July 27-30 in Middleton, Wis.
Others will compete in the upcoming United States Chess Federation Supernationals tournament, held April 5-7 in Nashville, Tenn.
“The kids are having a wonderful time,” Sammy Hole, Kansas Scholastic Chess Association president and tactical chess coach for the Independent School’s four chess teams, said Saturday afternoon.
Of her 68 students, 46 qualified for the state meet — including her son, 17-year-old Josh Hole, an Independent School senior.
He shook hands quickly with his opponent after winning his fifth match. By then he was 4-1.
Josh said the game “was really close until right in the end game when my opponent made an error and hung a knight in a trade,” a chess strategy that allows a chess player who advances a pawn across the board to exchange it for any other chessman.
“So going into the end game, I was up a piece and was able to promote and end the game from there.”
His advice to aspiring chess players: Don’t give up.
“You’ll get beat a couple of times while you’re still learning. Until you start learning some of the basics, it’ll be a little rough,” Josh said. “But once you get beyond that, it’s really fun.”