Nail-biting, face-wincing silence was the atmosphere at the Lakecity Chess Open, where reigning champion and self-taught chess mastermind Kai Richardson, 13, was unseated by Quesnel rival Andrew Martin in the finals.
“We were huddled between the playing room and the washroom looking through the glass door watching Andrew and Kai play against each other,” said Kai’s father and tournament organizer, Scott Richardson, of the final match up. “I just showed up in that little hallway and was behind a few so couldn’t see the board. Then I heard someone whisper: ‘Andrew’s got him against the ropes.’”
In all, 24 youth and adult competitors travelled from Vanderhoof, Quesnel, 100 Mile House, Mahood Lake and Williams Lake for the third annual event, held at the Williams Lake Library.
Though tournament numbers were down due to illness and winter driving conditions in the north, Scott said the competitors who were there were mostly veterans from past Lakecity Open tournaments making it a more determined rivalry between players.
“You could hear a pin drop during the matches with both tournaments happening at the same time,” Scott said. “There is a trend the lakecity is establishing — starting at 10 a.m. with a 40-minute lunch (the tournament brought in pizza) and ending at 6 p.m., the event demands stamina and determination. The one-day event with six rounds and 30-minute time controls is a test of endurance.”
In the youth category, Scott said eight competitors played four games, with the top four playing off. Scott said there was a tie for second and a three-way tie for third so a few rounds of tie breaks were needed before the final rounds.
Jeff Obexer won two 30-minute tie breaks and then his two 30-minute playoff games to take the first place trophy and a paid entry into either the BC Open, Grand Pacific Open or the Paul Keres Memorial.
Scott said Matthew Martin, who had arrived at the final knock out rounds in first place, took the second-place trophy and a choice of paid entry into either the BC Open or the Paul Keres Memorial.
Scott said the tournament saw a lot of good chess, with all players being great sports.
Scott and his wife, Aki, started the Lakecity Chess Open three years ago so their son, Kai, had someone to play with.
“We have been trying to facilitate chess for everyone,” Scott said. “People think it’s an elite game but that’s not it. It’s a child’s game. It’s for kids.”
Self-described chess parents, Scott said watching their son develop and thrive in chess has been wonderful.
Currently, Kai is second place in his age class in B.C. until January, at which point he’ll be the number-one ranked player in his age group due to the first-place player aging out of the division.
Scott said Kai’s love for the game started from a discounted chess CD put in his stocking stuffer at seven years old.
“He just took off,” Scott said. “At eight, he won a game against an adult at a tournament and we’ve never looked back.”
Scott said the game has taught Kai many practical things, such as being a better problem solver and a gracious winner or loser.
Scott noted that living remotely — the family lives off the grid past the Rudy Johnson Bridge where they grow all their own food and Kai is homeschooled – is a disadvantage as far as getting to play chess goes, but makes up for it in other ways.
“We live in the bush, it’s a really great existence,” Scott said, who makes custom knives and carving tools for his business, Cariboo Blades. “Kai doesn’t mind (missing out on tournaments). Playing chess is great but growing up in the boreal forest is even better.”
Kai said he thought the Lakecity Open tournament was great.
“I’m glad it turned out well with lots of strong players from all around the Central Interior and a good friendly atmosphere for playing chess,” Kai said.
He also said he didn’t mind losing in the finals.
“I have played thousands of games and have lost just as many as I have won, and I think it’s a good thing that there are strong chess players promoting the game around here,” said the 13-year-old, adding he likes chess because it is challenging and a good way to meet people.
“You can meet people from all over the world playing it because unlike language, it’s universal.”
The Richardsons wanted to thank all the local businesses who donated prizes for the tournament.