Pawns, rooks and players

International Chess Tournament in Buffalo makes up for this year’s low turnout with the fervor of participants

By Nancy A. Fischer
Updated: October 10, 2011, 5:39 AM

With all the distractions in the world these days, the game of chess could use less competition for attention.

The local games of the International Chess Tournament, held Sunday in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, were a case in point.

“We are up against beautiful weather, the Bills game and a holiday weekend,” said Anne Conable of the library’s development and communications office. “But the diehards are here.”

Ruby Soudant, 8, was a case in point.

The Olmsted Elementary School third-grader said she showed up to beat someone, and she had succeeded by the end of her first match.

“My dad usually beats me, and I wanted to beat him, so I joined the after-school program,” Ruby said.

Tournaments such as Sunday’s get her closer to her goal. About a dozen young people and several adults turned out for the event and were part of an estimated 1,300 players who participated worldwide.

Turnout was low, but enthusiasm was high. For some, it was a chance to participate in their first tournaments, including a chance to learn the game in a simplified version of chess called pawns and rooks.

Michael A. McDuffie, a chess coach and tournament organizer, said he created the easier game to teach and interest children.

McDuffie, of the Archangel 8 Chess Academy and coach of the East High School Dark Knights chess team, has for years organized U.S. Chess Federation tournaments throughout Erie and Niagara counties.

His Dark Knights have won national tournaments and trophies in their last two years of Chess Federation competitions.

“It makes kids more attentive in school. It makes them stay in school,” he said. “Trophies help them feel better about themselves. It makes them want to try.”

Tournament competition can be fierce, if quiet, McDuffie said.

“You can hear a pin drop,” he said of the concentration of the young participants.

James Davis, a local lawyer and assistant professor of French at Erie Community College, created “Chess Beats the Street” for school-aged chess players, but Sunday he was there to play in the tournament.

“It gives children self-discipline. They tend to stay out of trouble,” he said. “There are rules they must follow.”

Monique Rembert, who home-schools her children, brought her son and daughter to play Sunday.

“I like that they don’t have to be constantly stimulated by flashing lights,” Rembert said, offering chess as an alternative to video games. “Plus they have fun with it.”

“It’s a game of strategy. You learn how to focus,” said Rembert’s son, Mu-ath Kinsey, 8, “And ’cause on TV the old people play it, and they are always wise.”

His sister, Samiyah Kinsey, 10, said she wanted more patience and focus.

“It always seemed cool to play chess,” she said.

Frank Uschold, 10, of Springville Elementary, said he’s usually pretty good at the game when he plays against his mom. “But I can’t beat my dad.”

His older brother Kurt, 12, who is in Springville Middle School, called chess a game of logic.

Vamsi Ratnakaram, 10, a fifth-grader at Transit Middle School, agreed.

“I like puzzles,” he said of his reason for playing chess. “It makes you think.”

Tournaments are held monthly at the Main Place Mall. More information is available at


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