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Max Madow, left, holds his first place trophy with his coach, Eric Strickland. Madow was one of four Brattleboro chess players to finish in the top 10 at the Vermont Scholastic Chess Championship in Berlin on April 2.

Town and Village

Little kids win big at state chess championship

Rec. Dept. program helps young players learn to love a complex game

BRATTLEBORO—Four local boys brought home awards from the Vermont Scholastic Chess Championship in Berlin on April 2.

They were joined by their coach, Eric Strickland, who teaches chess through the Brattleboro Recreation & Parks Department.

Strickland’s crew did well at this year’s meet. Of the five youths who competed, three earned trophies and one received a certificate.

Two of the trophies were for first place. Tommy Hyde won in the fourth-grade division, and Max Madow was the top winner of the Kindergarten set.

Solomon Ponzio won a third place trophy in the fifth-grade competition, and Sam Madow came in eighth in the fourth-grade event, which had 26 contestants.

Hyde, age 10, told The Commons he has been playing chess in Strickland’s club for five or six years, but had learned from his dad a few years before that.

With the Berlin win, Hyde now has four first place trophies ― all earned in the last six months.

“It is very impressive Tommy has won all four tournaments he’s played,” Strickland said.

When asked what he likes about the game, Hyde said, “it’s strategic, I have to think a lot, and it’s fun.”

He wishes more kids would join the chess club, especially if “they are at my skill level,” Hyde said.

Max Madow is a seasoned player. He has been at the game for almost half of his life. The six-year-old joined Strickland’s club just about a year ago, and the Berlin trophy is his first.

Madow said he wants to win five trophies before quitting the game, and anticipates that happening when he is nine or 10 years old. When he retires from chess, Madow plans to fill his spare time with soccer.

Ponzio, age 11, joined Strickland’s club two years ago, but has been playing for five or six years.

At the Scholastic Chess Championship, Ponzio said he “knew after the fourth round I was going to win.” But, he thought he would only place fourth or fifth. “I was surprised when I got third place,” he noted.

Strickland has led the Chess Club in Brattleboro for about seven years. He has also taught classes at a few local elementary schools, and the Recreation & Parks gig came about by request.

“I had a request from a woman at church, Amanda Thurber, and she rounded up a bunch of her friends to enroll” their children, Strickland said.

A few years later, Strickland started a new, separate group, for beginners.

“‘Beginner’ is a broad term,” Strickland said, noting “most know how to use the pieces” when they arrive, and “you’d be surprised by how good a beginner is."

This season, which ends later this month, the club has five children in the beginner class and four in the intermediate class. Strickland said that’s “close to average” for the last few years. He noted the new season starts in September, and follows an open-enrollment plan.

Strickland estimates he has taught 50 individuals since starting the Recreation & Parks classes.

This year, there is only one girl attending Strickland’s club, although he said three girls were part of the Putney Grammar School’s summer chess program last year.

While girls make up a minute percentage of Strickland’s club, he said they were slightly better represented at the Berlin championship. Of the 140 kids, about 20 to 25 percent of them were girls, Strickland said, and “some girls did quite well.”

When asked why more girls do not join the chess club, Strickland said, “I hesitate to speculate,” then followed with, “chess is a war simulation game [that] teaches military strategy.”

Strickland noted that although “there certainly are some strong female players,” the makeup of the United States Chess Federation “is about 90 to 95 percent male."

“The majority of people in the world don’t know how to play chess,” Strickland said. “It’s sad."

“I’m passionate about the game, and I love sharing that passion,” he added. “That’s why I teach.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #352 (Wednesday, April 13, 2016). This story appeared on page E1.

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