Olympia High School(OHS) senior Addison Flora and the OHS Chess Academy signed up for the Washington High School Chess Association’s Southwest Washington High School Chess Championship. After facing off with opponents from all over the southwest region of the state in an all-day tournament, Flora won the title of champion. There were some intense moments played under strict chess competition conditions, but the event was successful for both Flora and the team with wins sending them all to the state level competition.
Olympia High School Chess Academy
The OHS Chess Academy meets every week when students at OHS filter out to different campus activities during Bear Time, an advisory period set aside for academic support and clubs. Math teacher Andres Lopez’s advisory period is a chess club, focusing on improving skills and competing. With seniors graduating and freshman entering school, the students in his chess club change annually. On any given week, 35-45 students show up for chess. One of them is Flora, who began playing chess more seriously last winter.
“My favorite part of chess is that it’s like a battle,” Flora says. “It’s one-on-one, but you don’t say anything. A lot of sports are very vocal and super intense, loud and with a lot of fans. I like how I can sit across from someone, and we can have that same intense battle, but it’s with pieces instead of a ball.”
Not only a chess champion, Flora also plays tennis, runs track and field at OHS and plans to go to college to study aerospace and engineering.
Southwest Washington Scholastic Chess Championship
When Flora and his fellow chess club members heard about the tournament, they decided to sign up and participate just for fun. Flora knows about chess great Magnus Carlson, watches the pros and other young players around the world and studies strategy so he can memorize and prepare.
“The biggest way you can study for chess is by studying openings,” Flora says. “I’ll pick the English opening, and I’ll memorize what moves I’m going to play. Then, depending on what moves my opponent will play, I’ll respond to that. So, you can see it’s like a branch off from that. For each move they can play, there’s a move I can play and so on and so on.”
On tournament day, 210 chess players from 93 schools, 104 of which were high school students, converged on the Centralia College campus. They were met with rows and rows of tables set with identical chess sets.
During the tournament scoring was recorded for both individual players as well as cumulative team scores. Each win earned one point. No one would be eliminated as each player was matched with a similarly scoring player for five consecutive games. No points were issued for losses and only a half point for a draw.
“The tensest moment is usually right after,” Flora says of what proceeds from the planned opening. “When you have all of the moves memorized at the beginning, you’re not very stressed. But, once you have to make all of the moves yourself, thinking and calculating, that’s when it gets hard and sometimes gets a little stressful.”
Flora counted down each of his 25 allotted minutes per match on the time clock, and a lot rode on each move.
“I like to play closed positions and make them complicated because I trust myself to calculate and think through these complex positions,” Flora says. “So, if I can get to one of those, I feel more comfortable.”
Of the final match, Flora adds, “It was definitely the best person I played at that tournament, and it was a really close back and forth game. Towards the end I had a really nice deflection.”
Chess and Potential Academic Benefits
Chess often gets accolades for the cognitive skills that it fosters. Studies nationwide claim positive benefits to academics. The National Scholastic Chess Foundation describes improvement to concentration and self-discipline and that all levels of critical thinking are at play, which include comprehension, evaluation and analysis. Chess is also fun, so participating in chess club during Bear Time is an opportunity for students to see if they enjoy the game, to experience competition and to perhaps take up a classic pastime that could potentially boost the rest of their school day.
Flora’s strategic chess moves proved well for him, and he finished with a perfect score, no draws and no losses, earning him the Southwest Washington Regional Chess Champion title. OHS scored 19 points as a team at the regional competition, more than any other team, earning the title of Southwest Washington High School Chess Team Champions, and they qualified to compete at the 57th annual Washington State High School Chess Team Championships in Stanwood, Washington one month later.
Ultimately, Flora and the OHS team have done well for themselves, volunteering to compete in experiences that were both challenging and memorable.