Stray rays of sunlight streamed through an expanse of windows at the Maple Park Community Center, reflecting on hundreds of black and white chess pieces awaiting competition.
The competitors, aged from kindergarten to high school, entered the center’s gym on Sunday morning, marking the beginning of the L.A. Holiday Scholastic Chess Championships.
PHOTOS: L.A. Holiday Scholastic Chess Championships
Jerry Yees, the director of the competition, stood at the center of the competitors, trying to find their chosen seats and opponents.
As soon as the games began, chatter quieted, and the dominating sounds were soon the high clicks of chess players tapping their competition clocks and the dull clunk of chess pieces slamming down on the boards.
“It opens doors in your brain. It teaches discipline,” said Yees. “But there’s a lot of stigma that goes with people who play chess. They think that only nerds and geeks play it.”
This is not the case, he said.
Yees started playing chess in elementary school but renewed his enthusiasm once his son, Michael, took interest in the game.
“My son started playing and was very good. He became a chess master at 15. I discovered my passion once I started teaching kids,” said Yees.
Holding a clipboard and chomping on a piece of gum, Tatev Abrahamyan, 25, wove through the competitors, her bright purple hair contrasting with the blondes and brunettes of the crowd.
Abrahamyan, a chess coach and the third-ranked female chess player in the United States, had several students competing.
Her introduction to chess started at age eight while she was with her father at work.
“My dad was cleaning out his office and that’s when I found a chess set. I asked him ‘What’s that?’ and he showed me,” said Abrahamyan.
About 165 contestants competed in five sections based on age and/or ranking, each section awarding trophies to the top 11, Yees said. Top finishers also received gift cards.
One competitor, Nare Arakelyan, 7, practiced with her brother, Zare, 9.
Nare has been playing chess for about a year. Both of them know three languages: English, Armenian and Russian.
“We practice chess two times a week with I think three to five games,” said Zare, who also plays soccer.
Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakian, who attended the tournament’s award ceremony, said the game teaches valuable life skills.
“In a world of Twitter and Facebook, chess teaches kids to be patient,” he said. “These kids sit down concentrating on a game for an hour.”
With a perfect score, winning all five games he played, Leo Creger, 16, won the open rank K-12 section.
Creger, a last minute entry to the competition, attends Newbury Park High School in Ventura County. He came away with a $350 Best Buy gift card in addition to his first-prize trophy.
Creger said he wasn’t sure yet what he’d do with his prize money.
“Maybe I’ll put it towards a computer,” he said.
Alexandra Duncan is a freelance writer.