Chess club wins New England trophies

The weekend competition began at 9 a.m. and continued until 7 p.m., both days. Each player competed in seven, one-on-one games lasting up to an hour and a half each during the two days.

BETHANY - Expect the unexpected from the young, high-powered members of the Bethany Chess Club. In their first major, out-of-state competition the 15 boys and two girls placed among the winners in two divisions in their first try at the New England Scholastic Chess Championship, held in Sturbridge, Mass., earlier this month.

The seven elementary-age members tied for second place in the third through fifth grade age division. The sixth through eighth grade junior high members tied for third place in New England.

More than 250 students between third and 12th grades competed in a large conference center room in the hotel where many of the participants stayed.

This was the largest tournament the Bethany club has been to, said Chris Van Dyck. He began coaching a few children in his Bethany home nearly two years ago, when friends of his son, James, and daughter, Laura, also wanted to learn to play. Van Dyck, a Yale psychiatrist, is a former U.S. champion and an international correspondence player.

The tournament was also the group's first two-day, overnight event. The weekend competition began at 9 a.m. and continued until 7 p.m., both days. Each player competed in seven, one-on-one games lasting up to an hour and a half each during the two days. Final scores were tabulated by team.

The two-days were "marathon sessions," said Amy Van Dyck, who watched her children and their teammates play except for "running out to McDonalds and waiting 40 minutes in line to buy lunch for the kids" each day. Sixteen parents accompanied the players.

Nothing seemed to faze the young chess players, she said. Even after the first exhausting day and a midday swim in the hotel pool, teams members were still discussing chess moves Saturday night.

Fourth-grader Adam Morowitz, who's been playing for two years, called the tournament "pretty hard," but won three of his seven matches, some against fifth-graders.

His mother, Cochi Morowitz, praised Van Dyck for keeping the fun of chess playing while teaching competitive game strategy.

The game is "kind of an adrenaline thing," parent Debbie Demander said. She and her husband, Eric, have always played. Their sons, Carl and Lars, play each other constantly, she said, noting they came home from the tournament and set a board up and played again.

There are more than 17 players in the Bethany Chess Club, but some don't feel ready for a tournament yet, Amy Van Dyck said. "It's intimidating," she observed.

The 12- to 14-year-old team members, who are in an age of "tremendous change," need and enjoy the support of the group dynamic, Chris Van Dyck said. "They feed off that." Although they play solo, they feel part of a team and share a sense of pride, he said, adding, "They're relatively close in skill and that's helpful."

The Bethany club normally enters two Connecticut area competitions a month and has brought home many trophies, including firsts. So many, in fact, that some parents are asking for remedial class to keep up with their children, Van Dyck said with a laugh.

As the club's fun and successes have become known, more children want to participate than the coach's home can accommodate. The Bethany Community School is planning to start a school-based club in January, Van Dyck said. "It's an addictive game," he added.

The junior high level players, some near high school age, are getting to a level where, "They're just about strong enough to compete at the adult level," he said. He hopes to do so within a year.

The Bethany Chess Club members who participated in the New England championship were: elementary age division, Lars Demander, Ian Farrell, Adam Morowitz, Eric Najmowicz, Dylan RoyDavis, Laura Van Dyck and Maria Vithayathil. Junior high division, John Abbott, Lou Bachenheimer, Geoff Blake, Matt Dannenhoffer, Carl Demander, Patrick O'Connor, Michael Ruggiero, Frank Sacramone, James Van Dyck and Paul Vithayathil.