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Young chess champs make all the right moves

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 13, 2011

 Brandon O’Neil, left front, squares off against Ben Diederich, right front, in a game during the Troy Youth All Star Chess Club practice at the Troy Community Center April 9.

Brandon O’Neil, left front, squares off against Ben Diederich, right front, in a game during the Troy Youth All Star Chess Club practice at the Troy Community Center April 9.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Though a swimming pool and a ping-pong table raise a racket just steps away, chess players stay focused on the board during a recent practice.

They have to.

During tournaments, some players on the Troy All Star Chess Club, who are nationally ranked, must sit still for more than four hours. Given that the players’ ages range from 4 to 13, that’s no small feat.

They even play against adults — and win.

Troy resident and team coach Christopher Hausner explained that each player, regardless of age, plays an opponent of the same skill level during tournaments.

The team members meet to play on Saturday afternoons in the common area of the Troy Community Center, unless they’re scheduled for a tournament.

The object, Hausner said, is for each player to “climb the ladder” to a higher skill level and ranking.

This past January, the Troy All Star Chess Club played against people of all ages in the United States Chess Federation competition in Lansing, and the team made a strong showing at the 2011 Michigan Children’s Chess Championship last month, taking home six trophies. All Star Christian Hausner, Christopher’s son, captured first place.

Team coach Jim O’Neil of Berkley said the four- to five-hour games teach the players patience.

“Lots of the kids on the team are good at music and math,” he added.

His son Brandon is ranked at 1450, considered a Class C rating for an adult, according to the United States Chess Federation’s system. Brendan is 13 and gets all A’s in math.

Brandon has played “blindfolded” during tournaments, meaning he turns around and doesn’t look at the board at all. He keeps an image of the board in his head and says his moves aloud.

“I tried it to improve my memory,” he said. “It was hard.”

He’s also played in one-minute blitz games, in which each team member has one minute to move.

Freddie Zhao, age 9, is the team’s highest ranked player at 1500; he won first place in a statewide championship when he was 7.

Troy resident Feng Zhong, who was born in China, started the team in 2009 with other parents and children who attended Chinese classes on Saturdays. The team has since branched out and is open to all. He started playing chess himself in 2009, when his son Eric was in first-grade.

Practice is free, and the cost to enter tournaments varies. The team has free use of the common area of the Troy Community Center, which has free Wi-Fi, allowing the team members to check rankings, play games and watch instructional videos online.

Zhong said that initially the team met to play in private homes, but they found that the players could concentrate on the games better at the community center.

“They learn to concentrate and focus on something from beginning to end,” Zhong said.

The newest member, Jane Joachim, 9, of Troy, plays chess at school and after school. Her father saw the All Stars practice at the community center, and Jane decided to join the mostly male team.

“You have to think about it,” she said of the game. “I like it.”

Brandon O’Neil and Austin Ye, 10, of Troy, ended their game during practice April 9 in a draw. Both players shook hands then smiled. Zhong stepped over and offered other possible moves, and the players agreed to leave it a draw. Ye took third place in the kindergarten through fifth-grade division at the tournament last month.

“I like the thinking and the strategy,” Ye said.

The team practices from 3-5 p.m. Saturdays at the Troy Community Center, 3179 Livernois. For more information, email the club at TYACC@