Children at tourney could beat adults

Tracey Tong/metro ottawa


Canadian Youth Chess Championship competitors gather in anticipation as player Jun Rui Xu, centre, makes a move during a practice game at the Chateau Laurier between tournament rounds yesterday.

In contrast to the quiet halls of the Chateau Laurier, sounds of laughter and the excited squawks of children spill from the Burgundy Room.

Inside, youngsters gather to play vigorous games of chess. These same kids mean business once they’re competing in the Canadian Youth Chess Championships tournament area, but in this room it’s a different story.

For now, kids are kicking back. Games and fast food containers crowd the tables. Between tournament games, players congregate here to practise and analyze games with their opponents and coaches.

Shreyas Sreeraman, age 9, is so small, he sits on his foot to gain height at the chess table. His father taught him to play when he was only a toddler. A couple of years later, he met his now-chess coach — who thought the boy showed an aptitude for the game — at the Association for Bright Children.

At first, Sreeraman Rajan was the victor in most games against his son. But that’s no longer the case, he said. Young Shreyas trains with his coach for 90 minutes once a week, but practises by himself more frequently at home.

Shreyas’s opponents are often older, he said, and, “depending on how good they are, I can beat them,” he said.

The kids take their skills in stride, Rajan said. “It’s nice to be a national champion, but to most of them, if they don’t have it, it’s not the end of the world. I don’t see a lot of them attach a lot of importance to it. It’s the parents that are tense,” Rajan said.

“She’s more relaxed than me,” said Vancouver resident Jim Foote, of his nine-year-old daughter, Joanne. “I’m the nervous one in the family.”

There's no mistaking the youthful nature of the competitors as they race through the hotel’s hallways. They’re laughing, joking and carrying backpacks.

But once they enter the grand ballroom, where they’re competing to advance to the world youth chess championships, it’s all serious faces.

“They’re so focused,” said volunteer Patrick Scantland.

“Five minutes ago, they were like Mexican jumping beans,” he said. “But when the game starts, you could hear a pin drop on the carpet. It’s amazing how these kids can concentrate.”

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