Gilbert High School's chess team put their self-discipline, creative problem-solving skills and intellectual abilities to the test when they beat out the tough competition at the recent national chess competition.
The Gilbert High team won first place in both the 10th-grade division and the blitz chess, or speed chess, category at the United States Chess Federation National Grades Championships Dec. 11-14 in Orlando, Fla.
Last year, the same team earned first place in the ninth-grade category at the same national competition in Houston.
The trophies keep piling up for the Gilbert High team after earning several individual awards and other first-place honors in additional national and state competitions.
Gilbert High sophomore Nick Thompson credits his daily practices, competitive nature and team's effort in the recent wins. The 15-year-old also received a third-place individual prize for the 10th-grade section, seventh place for the speed chess category, and a third-place award for the partner chess division with teammate Jacob Maneth.
"I like chess because it involves a lot of thinking and preparing," said Thompson, who has been playing chess for three years and has already competed in more than 50 competitions. "You can't be good at it without practicing."
Chess coach Michael Reading said this team does so well because "they have the knowledge, experience and drive."
"They want it very bad and they're working hard to achieve it," said Reading, a certified chess master whose various chess teams have won more than 180 first-place state and national awards. "They are willing to do what it takes to do the work. There's no luck in chess. It's simply a matter of having more knowledge and experience."
Reading, who has been teaching chess full time for 21 years, coaches six chess teams, including teams at Mesquite Junior High and Gilbert Junior High.
He said chess is so fascinating because it improves memory, verbal reasoning skills and mathematical problem-solving abilities. It prepares preschoolers for school and keeps seniors' minds sharp. Many of the Gilbert High teammates want to be engineers and excel at math and science.
Gilbert High sophomore Tommy Schucker said he's been playing chess since the second-grade because of the challenge and the new skills acquired with every game. The 16-year-old won second place in the under 1600-rating category.
Tommy's mom, Lynn Schucker, said she thinks it's great her son is involved in chess. She also attended the recent competition.
"They learn about strategies and different ways to win a game," she said. "It's a game that's actually very beneficial and a game that can be played for the rest of your life."
For more information on local chess activities, visit www.azchesscentral.org.