Local chess player helps team win state title

HARLINGEN — Michael Casas had his poker face on. And he was clearly following the golden rules of chess.

The 11-year-old’s every move was calculated. Some involved safety first, then attacking his opponent — and always making the best possible move.

At the 2017 South Texas Scholastic Chess Championship held at UTRGV in Edinburg over the weekend, Casas’ every move counted. It earned him enough points to help his team win the elementary state championship and become the co-state champ.

“I am very proud,” said George Lawson, Sam Houston Elementary School chess coach.

“I have been working with this team since they were in the first grade.”

But their work and efforts don’t end now.

Lawson said this is the fifth year in a row Casas and other members of the team have been invited to the Super Nationals Chess Tournament, which will be held in Nashville in May.

This prestigious competition is hosted by the U.S. Chess Federation.

Normally, chess matches last up to three hours. But Casas walked out of the room earlier than that, signaling his mother he had won with a thumbs up.

Parents and spectators are not allowed in the game room during chess matches.

“It was a very competitive tournament,” Lawson said. “It came down to the last game.”

He said the championship was up in the air until the awards ceremony. The top four players’ scores of each team determine who wins in their divisions.

The divisions were separated into elementary, middle school and high school levels.

Casas was the deciding factor for Sam Houston, coming out on top.

He walked into the tournament with a target on his back.

Every player in his division was waiting for a chance to play him and wanted to beat him. But they could not rival him.

Each player played four games on Saturday and three games on Sunday.

It was Brownsville’s Rojan Trakru who made it tough for Casas.

The two finished their sixth game against each other in a tie and both won their seventh and final game, giving them a share of the state title.

“It was a good match and we were in equal position for most of the game,” Casas said about his match with Trakru.

The two have been competing against each other since the first grade when Casas began playing chess.

Trakru holds a 300-point higher rating and has had the upper hand over Casas over the years, winning every time with the exception of the draw at the state tourney on Sunday.

“The beginning games were fast and every game became crucial,” Casas said. “It’s really hard to win six and a half games to become co-champion.”

He said going into his seventh match, his opponent wanted to beat him.

“He took the upper hand when I lost position in the center,” Casas said. “But my opponent was tired, and his one mistake lost him all his pieces.”

Casas then won the game with a checkmate. Trakru had also won his seventh match.

More than 200 players competed in the elementary division. Players from around the state wanted a chance to take on Trakru and Casas, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively.

“It was their extra hard work and determination that helped them win,” Lawson said. “They practiced harder than ever before over the last three months.”

Casas has been a top player in chess for his age group since 2013.

In 2015 he tied for third in Nationals.

This year he said his goal is to win the Super Nationals tournament in Nashville.

Six players from the Sam Houston team will travel to Nashville to represent the district.

Casas, Massimo Meneses, Alvaro Nieto and Izabel Vasquez have made the team. Two more players will be named at a later date.

“I have to give credit to my coach because they taught me my chess moves,” Casas said.