Published: March 28, 2010 Updated: 6:38 p.m.
600 chess champs do battle at Great Park

IRVINE – Sean Manross was willing to settle for a draw. It seemed, after all, that the 17-year-old was a little out of his league Sunday at the Orange County Great Park, site of the Southern California Super States Chess Championship.

Manross, a senior at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, was up against University High’s Vincent Huang, who had nearly achieved master status in the game, well above Manross’ “Class A” rank.

So, halfway through their board battle, with the match tight, Manross offered to call it a tie. His supposedly superior challenger declined, and the game went on, along with scores of other contests in a musty park hangar.

Six hundred K-12 players were there, waging war with rooks and pawns, but the cream of the crop was seated in one corner, tense and silent as matches stretched on for one hour, two hours, almost three hours.

“They’re twice my strength, can play me blindfolded, and I’m no chump,” said Dewain Barber, site coordinator for the Great Park Chess Program, of the top entrants.

Manross played at a modest pace, bouncing his legs, folding and unfolding his arms while possible moves danced through his head.

One hour into the game, still not a single piece had been taken, until suddenly, a flurry of fighting erupted. Manross lost a knight, responded by snatching a bishop, then lost his other knight. Soon the queens would fall, then the castles.

Things were almost all square – beside their kings, each player had one bishop, and Manross had one fewer pawn than his opponent. But he also had more time – a lot more.

To prevent never-ending games, players are limited to 75 minutes apiece – if time runs out, you lose, no matter your position.

And so, while the board looked like a stalemate, the clock told a different story – more than 10 minutes left for Manross, just 20 seconds left for his adversary.

The opponent extended his hand, offering a draw. Manross smiled, shook his head and gestured to the clock. “Well played,” Manross said generously, watching as his rival stood up and walked away defeated.

The game was “romantic” and “very tactical,” Manross said afterward. “Never a dull moment in that game.”

More matches awaited later Sunday, and Manross expected to confront other opponents with full master status. A big trophy and a ticket to a national championship this summer would be on the line, and Manross described his odds of making it that far.

“That would be a big upset,” he said. “I do my very best, and I like to believe I play above my potential.”

If higher-ranked players underestimate him – as one might have done Sunday morning – “that would be an unfortunate situation for them,” Manross said.


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