Check, mate! N.L. students to show off their chess skills at national tournament

Students from grades 1 to 12 are at the 34th annual Canadian Chess Challenge in Montreal on Sunday and Monday.

Tournament is a chance to face 'best player in each grade in each province'

A chess game of black and white figures lay on a checkered board with a clock on the table.
The 34th Annual Canadian Chess Challenge takes place Sunday and Monday in Montreal. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

While some people are setting up tents in the woods for the May long weekend, students of all ages from Newfoundland and Labrador will be setting up their pieces at a national chess tournament this weekend.

Students from grades 1 through 12 are in Montreal for the 34th Canadian National Chess Challenge on Sunday and Monday.

Christopher Qiu, the team co-ordinator, said the tournament "brings out the best of the best in Canada." 

A man in a polo shirt stands in front of a wall with mirrors.
Christopher Qiu, student co-ordinator for the players going to Montreal, says chess can be a beneficial tool for kids' minds. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

One player from each grade is chosen as a provincial representative for the tournament. 

"Obviously these players who are the best of their grade here in the province. That's already an amazing achievement for them," Qiu said.

"This tournament definitely gives them the opportunity to play against other players, you know, with much higher skill levels and other different experiences that they wouldn't have played here in the province." 

Chess is about learning

Luke Pittman is only 10 years old, but he's no rookie. He's been playing chess for six years.

A young boy with blond hair and an orange shirt plays chess.
Luke Pittman, 10, has been playing chess for six years and is in Montreal this weekend. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

"It's all about strategy and tactics and everything and problem solving, sometimes. You know, a person can develop problem solving by playing chess," he said. 

Evan Fang, in Grade 10, has been to the national tournament four other times. 

"Going to the nationals gives me an opportunity to play the best player in each grade in each province. So it's, I don't know, very diverse in who I'm playing, in different strategies and different play styles."

When it comes to the younger players, Evan said, they will learn a lot from competitions like these.

"A lot of the young players, including myself, when I was younger, I would blitz through my games and I would make a silly mistake and I would lose my game," he said. "So I think they're going to learn from experience to take their time, that they have the time to make the best possible move."

A young man in a plaid shirt sits at a table playing chess.
Evan Fang, in Grade 10, has been to four national competitions before this one. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

And, Evan said, he learns more from the games that he loses than the games that he wins. 

If he loses, he explained, it might be because he made a mistake. 

"And if I win," he said, "it could be that I play very well, or it could be a mistake from my opponent. So I believe that learning from my mistakes is better than learning from my opponents' mistakes." 

And even more than that, Evan applies his chess skills to real life. 

"Sometimes you have [setbacks] in life, but we learn from our position or learn from where we are now to be better and try to improve our position." 

As for chess advice, first grader Aimee Won said, "You'll play slowly. If you play fast, you will lose."

She also said the competition is about making friends.

A young girl in a blue cardigan sits at a table, playing chess.
Aimee Wong says playing chess is also about making friends. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

Benefits of chess

Qiu said there are benefits to kids playing chess. 

"First of all is just the social aspect of it, especially attending these big tournaments.There's a lot of friendships to be made in the chess community," he said.

"It really helps them to develop, to develop their minds.… It really helps to train the mind of the kids and help them to think, kind of, outside the box, think of different strategies and help with things such as critical thinking."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Sarah Antle


Sarah Antle is a journalist working with CBC in the St. John's bureau.

With files from On the Go and Here and Now