Eudora middle school chess players get their first “first.”
Tim Durkin had heard of "the annihilator" before, but until he faced him at the Bonner Springs chess tournament earlier this month, Durkin didn't know what he was up against.
"He was really good," the Eudora Middle School eighth-grader said. "He beat my friend Stephen."
Did Durkin mention "the annhiliator" was a second-grade boy?
"In chess, it's not the age," said coach and sponsor Dan Kuhlman. "It's the experience. There are some younger kids who will just drill you."
Yet Durkin managed to beat the annihilator, place first in the tournament, and help the team finish first at the tournament, a first for Eudora Middle School chess.
The young players were the ones to look out for, said fellow eight-grader Justin Male, who was also on the tourney team.
"If you're (playing) in the high school division and there's a little kid, watch out," he said.
The first-place win was done with a three-person team -- Durkin, Male and fellow eighth-grader Stephen Prudden -- at a four-person team tournament. Although Kuhlman said the first-place finish was certainly something to celebrate, he said victories at other tournaments this year were nothing to scoff at either.
Prepping for competition means bi-weekly practices that have players showing up an hour early to school -- at 7:15 a.m. -- to play each other in both traditional chess games and specialty games, like four-player chess and bughouse. Bughouse allows teammates, who play their own opponent on their own board, to share captured pieces with a teammate facing another opponent. Kuhlman said the game's fast pace helped players practice and recognize checkmate strategies. Chess Four, Durkin said, gave him and the others some good, general practice.
Tournaments, which can run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., offer plenty of downtime, Durkin said, which players used to play each other and practice, "here, there and everywhere," Male said.
The all-day tournaments tested the players' stamina, too, Kuhlman said.
"That's one thing that's hard for a 12- or 13-year-old kid: to stay focused eight hours," he said.
Playing tournament chess helps the young teens with concentration and focus, too, he said.
"It's a mental tiredness," Kuhlman said. "It can get pretty grueling at the end of the day."
Early in the year, Kuhlman said the team focused more on instruction, especially for the first-time players wanting to learn the game. The second half of the year focused more on sharpening skills.
Yet Kuhlman said the early morning practices, which brought Male and Durkin to his science classroom early Tuesday morning, and the Friday tournaments the students set up, were a testament to their own initiative. Kuhlman said he saw his role as providing the space and leadership for the players, with the district providing the materials and means for the team to compete.
"They're pretty much on their own," he said. "They just really love the game. It's their initiative that determines how far they will go."