Champions of the Chess Board
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association's Grade Championship tournament crowned winners in 12 classifications

Joe Habina
January 17, 2010

Joe Biernacki and Keith Brown prepared for their chess tournament last weekend the same way: They studied a bit, got a good night's rest and ate a good breakfast.

But when it came to their first-round matchup, winning and losing hinged on only one thing: With three minutes remaining in the match, Biernacki hung a bishop, and Brown pounced on it to win.

Such moves were critical as 151 students, mostly from Mecklenburg County, participated in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association's Grade Championship Jan. 9 at Olympic High School. Champions were crowned in 12 classifications.

The Grade Championship is one of several tournaments hosted by the association, which works with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to organize chess clubs in about 90 elementary, middle and high schools.

"This tournament is really good practice for the bigger tournaments throughout the year," said Joshua Holcombe, a fifth-grader at the Smith Academy of International Languages. "So if you don't play in this tournament, you won't have as much experience, and you won't learn as much."

The Scholastic Chess Association is an 18-year-old, nonprofit agency that hires chess grand masters to coach the game through the schools' clubs. Each school coordinates its own club with school staff and volunteers.