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Chess Champs Head for Nationals

Cold Spring Elementary Chess

Cold Spring Elementary Principal Martin Barnett is one of the few county principals who welcomes an overcrowding problem. The shelves where Cold Spring displays its trophies were no longer big enough, and the school’s chess team is to blame.

“We built it because there were so many trophies in the case, that we ran out of space,” Barnett said. “The kids can’t really read them because they’re up too high, but I think it instills a sense of pride when they walk by.”

Cold Spring won the 18-team Maryland K-5 championship last month, with five students placing among the state’s top 10 chess players. It was Cold Spring’s third consecutive state title.

Last weekend, Cold Spring won the Maryland Cup in Baltimore with a team of its four highest-ranked players, David Kaufman, Erik Agard, Jed Tan and Josh Marshall. The team placed second in the Under 1200 tournament, with high school teams competing.

In the national tournament in Chicago last November, Cold Spring placed No. 5 in the country. The team also traveled to Nashville, Tenn. last year, and will send competitors to this year’s U.S. Chess Federation national elementary school championship, April 2-4, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

“The last tournament was in Tennessee, and I stayed in Nashville, in the fanciest hotel you could ever imagine,” said 2nd-grader Peter Nelson about Opryland.

“They had three gigantic forests inside,” said 5th-grader John Marshall, who also went to Tennessee. A chess player since 1st grade, Marshall no longer feels nervous in the national tournaments. “I just don’t really feel much. I was probably scared in my first tournament, but I don’t really remember,” he said.

TOM RICHMOND, a county teacher and certified chess instructor, oversees Cold Spring’s chess club along with Ralph Nelson, a volunteer coordinator.

Cold Spring’s chess club has a waiting list. With two faculty overseers and a mandated ratio of a teacher for every 30 students, Cold Spring can only accommodate 60 players.

One-quarter of the team consists of first-graders, said Nelson, whose son Peter plays for Cold Spring.

Chess club members need not be state or national competitors. Many compete with other Cold Spring students during Monday after-school practices. Students choose opponents ranked just above or below them on the ranking “ladder.” They record every move in a logbook, and after the match they enter the moves into a computer. Based on each player’s performance, the ladder is re-runged after each practice. Dean Barclay and Steve Kaufman review each student’s game, giving pointers if the Cold Spring student lost.

“It’s not all about winning, it’s about losing gracefully,” said Ralph Nelson. “Life is not fun sometimes, and losing’s a part of it. … You say, ‘What can I do to get better?’”

Ben Krauss, now a sixth-grader, comes back to help the team’s advanced players practice. “Once you reach the top of the ladder, it can be tough to find good competition,” said Ralph Nelson.

Kevin Chiang, a Cold Spring 4th-grader, learned by facing tough competition. “I think my Dad got me into [chess],” Chiang said. “I lost to him every time, but now I beat him every time.”