POSTED: 12:14 p.m. HST, May 5, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 12:15 p.m. HST, May 5, 2014
Washington Middle School's chess coach, Roderick "Eric" Floro, thought something was wrong in the final round of the National Junior High Chess Championship in Atlanta, when he discovered that two of his players were pitted against each other.
Usually teammates don't play against one another in tournaments. But officials confirmed the pairings were correct. It turned out that they were tied for first place and had to face off.
Washington Middle came up with a clean sweep Sunday, landing the team championship trophy in the K-9 Unrated Division of the U.S. Chess Federation tournament. Teammates Quguang Wang, Kai Yuan Zheng and Wun-Min Chen placed first, second and third respectively, with Huai Yu Zheng in sixth place among 74 individual contestants.
Sixth-grader Patrick Perry won six out of seven games and the seventh-place trophy in a separate "K-8 Under 750" division.
"I can't tell you how extremely proud I am of these guys," Floro said before taking the boys to the Georgia Aquarium and the Coca-Cola Museum on Monday. "They played an amazing tournament."
"They helped analyze each of their games and practiced almost constantly from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed," he said, adding that none of them turned on the TV for the four days of the tournament.
Quguang (pronounced chu-gwan) started playing chess less than a year ago and lost every game in his first open tournament in Hawaii last fall. But the eighth-grader emerged as the state's middle-school chess champion March 29.
"When I play the game, I see what the other person does, and I learn from them," the 14-year-old said modestly on the eve of his trip to Atlanta.
At the nationals he won all seven of his matches. Wun-Min and Kai also went undefeated at the nationals until they had to face each other, then agreed to a draw. They ended up with 6.5 points each, and trophies were determined by tie-breaking formulas.
It was the second straight win at the nationals for Washington Middle, although this year's players are a different crew from the 2013 team. The high-poverty school has won the state chess championship four years in a row.
"Middle school is hard because it's just three years and you keep losing your eighth-graders, your leaders," Floro said. "But then other kids step up, sometimes those you don't expect. They improve and they surprise you."
After a quick swim and the awards ceremony, the team went to the Hard Rock Cafe to celebrate. It wasn't a long wait, but by the time the food arrived, three of the guys had fallen asleep at the table, their coach reported.
Floro, a math teacher who dedicates his prep period to teaching chess and puts in long hours after school, held up his end of the deal at the nationals. He won a first-place trophy in the player/coach section of the miniature Family/Friends tournament, with Wun-Min.
Washington's team competed in the unrated division because its players don't have national ratings. The U.S. Chess Federation assigns ratings, which are estimates of playing strength, to members who have played in official tournaments. Perry, 12, is the only Washington player who has a rating, having competed in mainland tournaments.
As state middle-school chess champion, Quguang earned the right to compete in a Tournament of K-8 Champions in Orlando in July. This week he was thrilled to find out he actually will be able to attend, thanks to a $2,500 donation to the chess club from the Davis Levin Livingston Charitable Foundation.
Attorney Mark Davis said he and others at his firm were touched by a Star-Advertiser article last week on the Washington team and its coach and didn't want a lack of money to keep them from the nationals.
"I was struck by the fact that two-thirds of the school was at poverty level, and here is a guy training these young analytical minds" through chess, Davis said. "These are the skills that make great lawyers."
Back at the Moiliili campus, Principal Mike Harano was delighted with how things turned out for his students.
"It was a great weekend to be an Eagle," he said, noting that two Washington students also won awards at the Brown Bags to Stardom contest Sunday: Liza Corotan for best middle-school vocalist and Nahale Brash as best dancer.
"We really look at three areas — academics, athletics and artistic — and encourage kids to find their passion in whatever area they can," Harano said. "That's what's going to carry them to success, not just into high school, but to college and in life."
Tax-deductible donations to support the chess club may be made to Washington Middle School, 1633 S. King St., Honolulu 96826.