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Portland Christian hosts state chess tournament


On Saturday, Feb. 3, Portland Christian Junior/Senior High School was abuzz with activity. Groups of kids wearing T-shirts in a rainbow of school colors filled the hallways. The cafeteria, however, was eerily quiet. It was filled with dozens and dozens of middle school students bent intently over long tables. No lunch was served that day. The kids were playing chess. “Shhhhhhhh, and please, no flash pictures,” said the proctor to spectators.

Portland Christian Schools eighth grader Isaiah Rowlett, right in camouflage shirt, studies the board during his match with eighth grader Karen Tiet from Kellogg Middle School at the Chess for Success chess tournament held in February at Portland Christian Junior/Senior High School. See story on page 17.
Gregory Heights seventh graders Mary Mai, from left, Josh Hansell and Kyler Buzalsky take a break from the grueling mental challenges at the Chess for Success tournament held at Portland Christian Junior/Senior High School in February.
The event was a regional tournament sponsored by Chess for Success. Julie Young, the executive director of Chess for Success, said the nearly 200 students participating made it the largest regional tournament in the history of the state. She said more than 150 middle school students and two dozen or more high school students from more than 30 different schools competed for the right to advance to the state tournament in March.

Chess for Success is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing children in economically disadvantaged schools the opportunity to build and develop important skills necessary for success in school and life. Chess for Success also helps schools create chess clubs and organizes tournaments in 24 regions throughout Oregon. The folks behind this nonprofit organization believe that teaching chess to kids helps them develop skills that lead to success in school. To learn more about this worthwhile organization visit the Web site at:

Alan Svehaug, the chess coach at Portland Christian Junior/Senior High School, echoed that opinion. He sited studies that indicate kids who learn to play chess have improved grades in school and higher SAT scores. According to Svehaug, chess improves such basic skills as memory, concentration, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, self-discipline and thinking ahead.

“Good grades are a natural by-product,” he said. “That’s why I got into this. I have seen the benefits to kids.

“A lot of people think chess is incredibly complicated,” Svehaug continued. “But, there are only six pieces. I can teach it to kindergartners. I teach piece movement, how each piece captures. The rudiments. Then I start teaching tactics. Each tactic is like a tool. Now you can build a plan for your own play, and take apart your opponents position. Then we work on some opening things, some end game things. Step by step. In a very short period of time, students make a great deal of progress.”

He once took an elementary team of novices — no tournament experience — to a regional tournament and finished second. “Kids are smart,” he said. “My goal is to show them how smart they are. Smart people respect chess.”

On this day, Mary Mai, a seventh grader at Gregory Heights Middle School, was eager to test her newfound knowledge and strategies. She started playing chess only about a month before the tournament. Seventh grade teammate Kyler Buzalsky, who had been playing for a little over a year said he loves the excitement at tournaments and enjoys meeting other players. Both players hoped to do well enough to advance to the state tournament and to add to their team point total.

PCJHS eighth grader Isaiah Rowlett is new to the game. One of Svehaug’s students, Rowlett exclaimed, “Chess is fun. My best friend plays. It’s fun to be with him.”

Andrew Moses, a senior at PCHS, started playing chess last year. He proclaimed, “(Chess) helped me with critical thinking, thinking under pressure, and seeing the product of my study. It gives me encouragement to work hard.” He said he also enjoyed learning a new skill and being part of a new community.

Moses earned a third place finish at the tournament this year. PCHS juniors Steven Koch and Luke Guthridge advanced to the state individual tournament. Rowlett, eighth grader Chance Rossi and seventh grader John Russell advanced to the state individual tournament in the middle school division.

On Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17, Chess for Success hosted its 40th state tournament. The original tournament in 1967 took place at OMSI. This year, more than 300 students gathered at the Oregon Convention Center. At this event elementary and middle school students play for team and individual honors while high school players vie for individual trophies only.

Koch finished in second place in the high school division. Rossi placed second and Rowlett placed fourth among eighth graders. Russell came in second in the seventh grade group. Those three, along with Dylan Gardner, Matt Kolenski and Cody Wisenbaker made up the PCMS team that captured the state third place trophy. Mary Dang, an eighth grader at Gregory Heights Middle School, placed sixth in the individual middle school rankings.

Not to be outdone by their older counterparts, the Portland Christian Elementary School team was represented by fourth grader Philip Weiss, who earned a second place trophy; Grant Saxton, a second grader who finished fifth; Anthony Garcia, third grade, who was the sixth place finisher; and fifth grader Dario Zea, who placed seventh. The elementary school team came in sixth overall.

The Oregon High School Chess Team Association also holds its state tournament in late winter. OHSCTA encourages high schools state wide to form leagues and play competitive chess. Over the last weekend in February 30 teams met at PCHS to determine the best of the best. Middle and junior high schools are eligible to enter this tournament as well. There were 250 players in attendance at what was called the largest team championship tournament in the history of the state.

At this event, each team fields a team of five players rated board 1 to board 5. Each player plays the same board in each round of five rounds of play. Points are awarded for wins and draws, with a maximum total of 5 points after each round of play — team trophies are awarded by division. Trophies are also awarded to the players with the highest score at each board position. Alternates, or players that each team brings should a team member be unable to finish, compete in an individual tournament

After three rounds of play in the varsity Division A classification, Portland Christian, Lake Oswego and Wilson were undefeated. PCHS defeated Grant in the fourth round, earning a spot in the finals against the Lake Oswego Lakers. The Lakers came out on top in that match to win the state title and create a three-way tie for second place. By virtue of tiebreakers, PCHS, represented by senior Brian Svehaug, Josh Carr, Josh Young, Koch, Moses and Guthridge earned the fourth place trophy behind Westview and Grant. Carr received All-State honors for his play on board two.

The PCHS varsity Division B team of ninth grader Ryan Harding, Nick Young, Andy Harding, Raymond Cho, and Phuong Le placed third. In the Individual Division, PCJHS alternates Kiet Le, Tan Nguyen, and seventh grader Cody Wisenbaker placed second, fourth, and seventh, respectively.

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