Young chess players test their craft

HARLINGEN — Rhea Morales seemed jazzed yesterday as she went into the next round of the chess tournament.

“I like to compete, seeing new openings to start the game and new strategies,” said Rhea, a seventh grader at Manzano Middle School in Brownsville.

Rhea was one of more than 1,400 students competing in the 2018 Texas Chess Association Region VIII Chess Championship. They came from more than 100 schools throughout Cameron and Willacy counties to compete in the event at Harlingen High School South.

The event was going very well, said Jeanne Jimenez, regional chess coordinator for the Harlingen school district.

“Most of these schools are here to qualify for state or national competitions depending on their district guidelines,” she said.

Elementary, middle school and high school students were divided into sections such as primary kindergarten through first grade, junior varsity kindergarten through third grade and champion kindergarten through third grade. All were working earnestly to advance to the next level.

However, there’s much more to chess than winning championships, she added.

“It helps with their concentration, their focus and problem-solving skills,” she said.

While players expressed a sincere love for the game, the value of victory wasn’t lost on them.

“I like winning,” said Jacob Fox, 14, an eighth grader at Coakley Middle School in Harlingen. He explained some of his strategies toward that purpose and then the challenges.

“Sometimes there’s not enough time,” he said. “Every person has 40 minutes, and sometimes you have to speed up.”

Chess seemed to be an integral part of his life.

“I started in second grade,” he said. “Someone would be teaching us and I thought it would be fun.”

His mother Shannon appreciated the importance chess seemed to play in his life.

“He’s been doing it for so long,” she said. “It helps them think ahead, not only in chess but in school, also.”

Strategy was on the minds of many players, especially when new challenges appeared unexpectedly.

“Going against someone with a higher rank is hard,” Rhea said.

Jimenez said the students competed in four rounds yesterday and would participate in another three rounds today.