By: By WALT WILLIAMS, Chronicle Staff WriterMarco Downing, 10, and Jakub Gedeon, 15, sat talking over a regulation chess board, the black and white pieces laid out in uneven rows before them.
Neither boy appeared ready to checkmate the other's king, and they were in no hurry to do so. They were simply practicing, getting ready for the real competition that was only minutes away.
The Bozeman Fall Scholastic chess tournament was held Saturday at Montana State University. The informal competition brought together 30 local youngsters, grades kindergarten through 12, to test their skills at the board game.
In an age of video games and the Internet, the kids had found a pastime in one of the oldest sports. And many gave a surprising reason why they enjoy the game so much -- it forces them to concentrate.
"You have to really think a lot about what you are going to do when you place chess," Marco said.
And of course, as with any other sport, there's the glory of victory.
"It's the thrill of trying to capture the opponent in some nook they can't get out," Jakub said.
The tournament is a regular event hosted by the MSU Chess Club.
"It's a great thing for the kids," said Steve Scarff, the club's advisor. "They really have fun here. It keeps them interested in the game and it builds the future of the game."
Chess is a very different experience from playing a video game, Scarff said. And while, yes, kids can now play it over the Internet, nothing beats the experience of playing against live opponents.
"It's fun to play over the board and meet people," he said. "(The tournament) brings a lot of kids together that don't know each other."
Kids were encouraged to bring their own chess boards, but if they couldn't, a regulation board was provided. Many spent the lull time before the start off play demonstrating special strategies to others.
"I only move my king's (piece) up one, that's all really I do," 7-year-old Jake Figi said, explaining his special strategy. "I think it might be lucky."
Both Jake and his 6-year-old brother, Lucas, were competing in the tournament. Their father, Hans Figi, said they got started at home and have continued the hobby at school.
"We were glad to see them play, but they had fun doing it, so it wasn't like piano lessons or something," he said. "It was more of a game and they enjoyed it."
Most of the competitors were boys. But 9-year-old Kersten Haff was proof enough that girls liked chess, too.
"It's just really fun and it helps me concentrate on a lot things," she said.
K-4th grade (18 players) - 1. Isaac Thompson, Longfellow School; 2, Philip Gaetano, Heritage Christian; 3, Galen Swain, Whittier School.
5th-8th grade - 1, Nathan Brown, Longfellow School; 2, Cody Haff, Sacagawea School; 3, Will Wright, Springhill School.
9th-12th grade - 1, Orion Alonso, Bozeman High; 2, Ben Darling, Bozeman High; 3, Jakub Gedeon, Bozeman High.