New York’s Littlest Chess Players Win National Championship
By JOHN LELANDMAY 8, 2016
The New York Times
Benjamin Kwon, a student at Public School 77 in Manhattan, during a chess tournament in April. He won five matches in a Nashville tournament on Sunday, helping his school win a national championship. Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times
It’s official: The kindergarten and first-grade chess players from Public School 77, who were profiled in The New York Times last month, are now the national champions for their grade levels. The team came from behind on Sunday to win a highly competitive three-day tournament in Nashville, rising from near obscurity a few years ago to defeat powerhouse chess programs from around the country. New York schools dominated the tournament, which accommodated students up to the sixth grade.
The team from P.S. 77, which is known as the Lower Lab School, had a couple of potentially deflating losses in the early rounds, but prevailed on the tournament’s last day to defeat more established teams from New York City: the Dalton School, Hunter College Elementary School, the Speyer Legacy School and Collegiate School.
In the seven-round tournament, at the National Elementary Championship, three Lower Lab players won six matches, and two won five. (The top four scores are counted in the team score.) Morgan Mairaj, Royal Buchanan and Noah Gillston each won six; Sobel Gaudissard and Benjamin Kwon each won five.
“What a scene,” said Vincent Gaudissard, whose son, Sobel, lost his first two matches, then won the next five. The family had not planned to attend the tournament, then changed their minds one day before, arriving in Nashville at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the first match.
Other winners from the city included teams from Dalton (kindergarten through third grade and kindergarten through fifth), and Public School 116 (kindergarten through sixth grade “blitz” style).
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Lower Lab’s victory reflects a boom in chess in New York schools in recent years, as the city prepares to host the World Chess Championship in November, the first time the tournament will be played in New York since 1995. Just three years ago, said Peter Marinis, whose sons Pearce and Rylan play on the third- and first-grade teams, Lower Lab’s program typically sent five or six students to local tournaments. This year, 19 players went to Nashville, at significant cost to the families in time and money.
On Sunday, the expense and effort of getting there were forgotten.
“The best part was when I won the last game,” Noah Gillston, who recently turned 7, said. “She was rated above me,” he said of his opponent. “I trapped her with my queen,” he continued. “I was thinking, my rating is going to go up, and my team is going to win.”
His mother, Amy Gillston, said, “I don’t know if we will ever have this feeling again.”
Michelle Park, the mother of Ben Kwon, also decided to attend the tournament at the last minute. “He said, ‘Mommy, what happens if I don’t win?’ I said, ‘That’s O.K., just play your best chess,’” Ms. Park said.
When it was all over, she said, “My husband said, ‘I hope you realize that this is your Mother’s Day present.’ It’s the best Mother’s Day I ever had.”