Camas students head to state chess championship

Elementary school students to compete with 1,200 others on April 21

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category icon Camas, News, Schools
Camas chess players from left to right, Yu-Cheng Liang, Alexander Yu, Derek Heath and Eric Zhang compete in a five-round game of Swiss during the YMCA Chess Tournament on Saturday, March 31, at Orchards Elementary School, in Vancouver. The YMCA tournament was the last competition where players were able to qualify for the state championships, which will be held on Saturday, April 21, in Pasco Washington. Nine Camas students are headed to the state competition. (Tori Benavente/Post-Record)

Nine elementary students from Camas schools have qualified for the 2018 Washington State Elementary Chess Championship to be held on Saturday, April 21, in Pasco, Washington.

In order to qualify for the state championship, students were required to finish in a Washington Scholastic Chess Tournament with a final score that was greater than half the number of rounds in the tournament — typically three points or better for a five-round event.

Qualifying students are: Adam Fong, fourth grade at Dorothy Fox; Derek Heath, second grade at Prune Hill; Sambhav Koppala, first grade at Grass Valley; Sankalp Koppala, second grade at Grass Valley; Yu-Cheng Liang, fourth grade at Prune Hill; Ian Wentworth, fourth grade at Helen Baller; Erik Wong, second grade at Prune Hill; Alex Yu, second grade at Prune Hill; and Eric Zhang, first grade at Grass Valley.

Many of these students got their start playing chess by participating in the after-school program Success Through Chess, taught by Alan Svehaug in Camas schools.

David Heath, father of Derek Heath, said his son started playing chess in the after-school program when he was in kindergarten, and his interest grew in first grade when he participated in his first tournament and qualified for the state championship by winning three of five rounds.

At the state tournament, there were about 1,200 other players, David Heath said.

“It was a really eye-opening experience for me as a parent, and for Derek as a first-timer,” he said. “Derek wasn’t daunted or discouraged by the experience. He came out of it and wanted to do it again.”

That’s when the family signed Derek up for the after-school program at EinsteinWise, in Vancouver.

“The (Success through Chess) program is a great foundation, really catalytic to get kids interested in chess,” David Heath said. “Then we have EinsteinWise for those kids who want to take it to the next level and learn about the tournament experience.”

Svehaug has sparked children’s interest in chess through coaching since 1995 and began as the coach in Camas in 2012.

Svehaug said he has seen outstanding results from students he taught in the past going on and becoming valedictorians, doctors and veterinarians.

“It changes things. If you teach them and coach them clearly and encourage, equip and enable them, you can totally change their trajectory in life,” he said. “That’s why I do this, because trophies and medals are fun, but helping (students) go from being OK to extraordinary — that is amazing.”

Qing Yu, father of second-grader Alex Yu, said his son also discovered chess through the Camas after-school program.

“I know that studies show (chess) is helpful for brain development, academics, friends and how to handle either winning or losing,” Qing Yu said.

The game gives the family an activity to do while spending time together and allows Alex to make friends, Qing Yu said. Alex Yu and Derek Heath are best friends who now bond through their chess matches.

David Heath said chess has had a positive impact on his son, Derek’s, mathematics skills and ability to focus.

“It’s a good game for kids to learn a lot and have an impact on their life,” Qing Yu said.

Svehaug said that as students play chess, they and others start to realize their intelligence.

“I love this. I get so excited about (the students) and helping them to be able to adapt and overcome — to take on challenges,” Svehaug said.

Last year, the state championships were held in Tacoma, and Yu-Cheng Liang was the co-champion for first place after winning all five of his games, said Sean Liang, his father.

This year, Yu-Cheng will test his success again, alongside the rest of the Camas elementary students in Pasco.

Sudhakar Kudva, owner of EinsteinWise, said that most, if not all, of the students heading to the state championships attend the chess academy at EinsteinWise.

EinsteinWise opened in 2011 and uses the software “Chess Magnet School” to help develop players’ skills.

“It’s not the main focus, but it’s an important part of our activity and development,” Kudva said.

The software is designed to work with the chess coach, who can monitor student progress, assign and grade homework and use real-life chess puzzles to build players’ skill levels.

Micah Smith, an expert class player and former Washington State elementary champion, coaches the EinsteinWise chess students.