2009 Ann Arbor Thurston Chess Tournament a Big Success

by Jeff Alson

Eighty-seven enthusiastic players from grades K-8 in the Ann Arbor area participated in the 6th annual Thurston Chess Tournament on Saturday, January 24. (Click here to see the results.)

While the tournament is just one of many factors that have led to a real kids chess boom in Ann Arbor---most importantly the efforts of some of the state's top chess teachers such as Ray Garrison, Jennifer Skidmore, John Smalec, Ben Finegold, and others who work with hundreds of kids---the tournament has filled an important niche as a cheap and local opportunity for children and parents to experience their first kids chess tournament. There were 51 unrated players this year. In addition, the Ann Arbor News has published a full page of color photos about the tournament each of the last two years, helping to market chess to the broader community. The photos of the K-1 section, where the kids often appear to struggle to see over their pieces and who play their own version of "speed chess," are always popular.

The top K-8 section was particularly strong this year, with the average rating of the ten players well over 1000 and no one rated below 800. Justin Chen and Marco Lorenzon, friends and classmates at nearby King Elementary, drew their game and were co-champions with 4.5 points. Oliver Barron of host Thurston Elementary won the K-5 Open with a perfect 5 points, with Duncan Darnell and Ryan Gudal of Thurston, and Ryan Li and Nicholas Darlington of King, all tying for second with 4 points. In the K-5 novice section, Daniel Khain of Angell Elementary took top honors with a perfect 4 points, while Justin Tseng of Summers-Knoll took second with 3.5 points. Allen Wu of Logan Elementary scored a perfect 4 points to win the K-1 section, and runner-up was Phillip Kang of Angell with 3.5 points. Each participant won a participation certificate and chess piece key chain (maize or blue, of course!).

The tournament has helped solidify a chess tradition at the host school, Thurston Elementary in northeast Ann Arbor. Under the leadership of Ray Garrison, who teaches a weekly chess class at the school and who has directed the tournament since its inception, Thurston has been a major force in the statewide K-3 and K-5 tournaments. It has won four state titles in the last five years, including an unusual K-5 title in 2006 when the Thurston B team won the state title and the Thurston A team finished third!

Special recognition goes to Jim Vallem, the Thurston parent who conceived of and led the volunteer effort to organize the first tournament in 2004, and whose vision has continued to guide the tournament today. This year, the primary parent volunteers were Nejat Karabakal, Yuji Fujii, Gene Darnell, and myself, as well as another 20 parent volunteers who helped on tournament day. Byron Bunker documented the event with some wonderful photographs.