Checkmate! Minnesota students among nation’s chess champions

By JOE NATHAN – Gazette Columnist

Youngsters from Minnesota are among the best U.S. chess K-12 players in various divisions, based on results at the U.S. Chess Federation national chess tournament recently held in Minneapolis. More than 1,300 students competed, including more than 300 Minnesotans from 100 schools.

Andrew Hanson, a Rosemount High School junior, was first in the "unrated K-12 division, out of more than 100 competitors.

The 16-year-old Hanson said he started playing chess when he was six. He began playing in tournaments about a year ago. He said his favorite thing about chess is, "There is no luck about it, the best player always wins. It is a real competition."

Hanson added that had not expected to do well, as this was only his second "rated" tournament.

Hanson’s mother, Michelle, said, "I don’t think most people realize how much work goes into becoming a good chess player. He has read numerous books, played countless games, and then reviewed each and every move in all of his games to find out what he could have done better."

Hanson thanked faculty and students at his school. Many have complimented him, and his success made Rosemount High School’s daily newscast.

Eleven-year old David Ma, a sixth-grader at Edina’s Valley View Middle School, finished second in the "Unrated k-12" division. He’s been playing for 1.5 years.

Ma’s high finish surprised him. He likes chess because it "exercises your mind." He’s also learned to "keep calm if you start losing," and that "hard work makes you a better player. Ma’s father, Andy, told he that he’s "Very happy with our son’s progress."

Shoshana Altman, 11, from Plymouth and a sixth-grader at the Minneapolis Jewish Day School, took second among more than 200 in the "under 800" section, one step up from the "unrated" section.

Altman started playing chess when she was four. Many of her family members play. She told me that her grandfather started a chess organization and "someday I hope to run it."

For Altman, the best part of chess is "learning new strategies." She also advises people "not to judge people you play by hold old they are," noting that one competitor looked at her as a game was beginning and told her opponent, "You’re playing the least intimidating person in the tournament."

Brock Morris, a freshman at Sibley High School, was first in the "under 800" section. He also started playing chess at age four. He really likes the way chess "compares to so many other things in life," like planning a strategy and needing to make adjustments." He recalls losing to Altman in another tournament.

In the "under 1600" section, Donald E. Hooker, a senior at Minneapolis South won first place, and Danny Goldstein, a 9th-grader at St. Louis Park was third.

A remarkable middle school group from New York won the top prize in the championship division.Matt Dahl, a senior at St. Thomas Academy, was Minnesotan’s highest-ranking individual. He placed 13th. Michael Yang and Kevin Bu, from Eden Prairie High School were 20th and 24th in the top division. Complete results are available here:

USCF Scholastic Tournaments are organized in sections where students of relatively similar rankings play against each other so there are opportunities for students at every level of ability

According to Robert McLellan of the U.S. Chess Federation, it is "the official, not-for-profit U..S membership organization for chess players and chess supporters of all ages and strengths."

Extensive research shows chess helps develop both academic and life skills Wise schools have a chess club, like many mentioned above.

Joe Nathan directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He is not a great chess player. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].