When people think of a competition, they usually think of a physical one, but in chess, it’s all mental.
A record 146 teams, not divided by class, competed at the Peoria Civic Center for this year’s IHSA State Chess Competition.
“It exactly like a bracket style, but it’s not single elimination, so everybody plays seven rounds but you always play someone who has the same record as you,” said Naperville North High School Dean and Chess Coach, Jeff DiOri. “So if you lose twice, you play someone else who lost twice and the undefeated teams keep playing each other until there’s only one.”
The seven game, 8-board competition came down to the wire, with one seed, Stevenson, and three seed, Naperville North playing against each other to see who would be crowned state champion.
“Stevenson was the favorite, but that’s kind of an understatement, they had a really, really strong team. I think their fourth board was last year’s state champion, so they had three players better than him and basically every other team had given them the title thinking that they would beat us,” said North player, Mark Reed.
In this tournament, eight individuals play for points towards their team. Board One is the team’s best player and a win is worth 12 points. The points decrease with each board down to the eighth, worth just five points. Play builds up to the strongest board and all points for wins or draws are added together as a team for final scoring.
“So we had a loss on board five and board eight and we had draws from four through the rest of them. So in order for us to win, we needed a draw and two wins out of our top three boards,” said North player, Nateole Jnik.
With state on the line, the last three boards were in play at the same time. Mark, board two, tallied a win. So it was down to boards one and three, Bradley and Matt, to get at least one win and one draw to take home the title.
“Because we’re mostly seniors and been around and we’ve been to tournaments and we’re pretty tournament tested, this is where we shine,” said Jnik.
Bradley at board one ended up in a draw, and shortly after, Matthew checkmated his opponent, securing Naperville North’s number one spot in state.
“Matt, he pretty much saved the day, and we got the win, and at that point there was a lot of noise made in the tournament hall,” said Jnik.
“I jumped up, I turned around and I started hugging everything within a five foot radius of me for a minute straight and I cried a little tears of joy. I’m not entirely sure what happened after that, there were a lot of people there,” said North player, Matthew Wu.
After consistently going 5-2 the past three years, the seniors finally had their time to shine.
“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to win state chess. I mean it’s really hard. We had a great team, but even after we won I never, I couldn’t even believe it, you know. It was like something that I hoped to do some point in my whole career because it’s just so difficult,” said North Coach DiOri. “Just the fact that the kids accomplished that is amazing, I’m so proud of them.”
The next step for the team, trying to crack into the top ten at this year’s national competition in Columbus, Ohio.
Neuqua Valley, Naperville Central and Metea Valley finished in 7th, 12th and 15th place respectively. Nearby Benet Academy finished in 8th.
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