Young chess stars meet in a Winner Take All – Checkmate tournament!

Clara witte
(All photos: Vince Ruble)

Alexandria, VA – The Queen’s Gambit is Netflix’s most-watched show right now. Many Americans stuck inside have found a necessary escape in the fictional story of Beth Harmon, an orphan turned chess child prodigy who defies all odds to compete with the best in the world. The 7-part miniseries, designed for adults, immerses viewers into the competitive chess world of the 1960s. But in 2020, adults aren’t the only ones who need a distraction from the realities of pandemic life.

Recently, Zebra caught a glimpse of the minds of local children on a similar quest for chess greatness. These serious students of the game, unable to play in the traditional head-to-head setting, found that playing against each other in online tournaments presented its own set of challenges and rewards.

For nearly 20 years, Alexandrian Vince Ruble has organized traditional chess competitions at schools in the area, including a tournament all over the city of Alexandria. The ruble works for The Campagna Center provide before and after school programs for Elementary schools of Alexandria, but his main profession now is to teach one-on-one chess.

Facing quarantine this year, Ruble provided a safe alternative by launching online gambling. Since March, more than 200 bright young players have competed tirelessly for 54 trophies each month. Each competitor played four games per tournament. It’s a lot of failures.

Zebra spoke to four of these rising chess stars as they prepare for a showdown on December 5, to win an impressive 28-inch trophy. The players are Clara Witte, Ethan Corazza, Andrew Fabian and Thomas Votsis, and their ages range from 9 to 14 years old. Everyone has a unique style of play and approach to the game, which is part of what makes chess great. No two players are the same; no two matches are identical.

A great player should see what is in front of him and adapt accordingly. Success depends on the individual’s ability to predict what his opponent will do next. Players at this level are adept at visualizing the next set of moves and trying to stay one step ahead of their opponent.

No one knows this better than Clara Witte, a sixth-grade student in Roland Park Elementary School in Baltimore. She uses her innate ability to read people to her advantage.

“Sometimes I can see a little disturbance in (opponents’) faces, but when it’s just another computer screen you just forget about that and just focus on the game,” Clara said. That Clara is the only girl among the four finalists is not lost on the 11-year-old. “If a boy wins against another boy, they’re okay,” she said, “but if a girl wins, then they think she’s cheating or something.”

Clara is quite humble about her accomplishments. “I kind of see the trophies as an enhancement, but what’s the point of showing them? You don’t take them everywhere with you, they just sit on the wall or on a shelf.

Thomas Votsis

Thomas Votsis, nine years old, fourth grader MacArthur Elementary School in Alexandria, has a different take on trying to read his opponent. “Usually I don’t, because sometimes I read their emotions. Then I think I win or lose and that makes me overconfident, ”he said.

Thomas enjoys being able to play chess with a wide variety of players over the few years he’s been playing, but, he said, “Probably the biggest (take-away) is concentration because in chess it is. is what you need to do. If you dream while you are playing you will lose. I learned to focus on things and get them done.

Ethan Corazza

At 13, Ethan Corazza is in seventh grade at Hammond College and the highest ranked player in the group. Ethan is modest about this fact. Asked about his success, Ethan said, “I have been more consistent than most other people.”

Ethan sees his game as an opportunistic endeavor and a way to create a more exciting game. “If there’s an opportunity, if I see it, I’ll probably take it. If I can attack or defend I will probably attack, ”he said. The thrill of the attack is not a small part of what makes Ethan such a dangerous player.

André Fabien

Andrew Fabian is a 9 year old who attends Mount Vernon Elementary School and a highly cerebral player who prefers to get lost in the game no matter who the opponent is. “I’m so immersed in my games that I don’t care if it’s against a random person. It’s just the chess pieces, ”he said.

Not surprisingly, patience is a virtue for Andrew when it comes to chess. “You can’t force a person to move and go through their thinking process. You have to go through your own thought process and think to yourself, is that a trap? Can I be forked somehow? »Says André. (For those new to chess lingo, a fork is when an opponent forces you to choose between two of your pieces that could be captured on the next move. A fork is something to avoid.)

It will be a fascinating clash of spirits when these exceptional chess players collide in the elimination tournament on December 5th. When you read this, the tournament will have taken place and we will be reporting the result on the Zebra site ( and in the January Zebra. We wish them the best of luck as they go head-to-head to see who takes the title. Be sure to check out our next issue when we release the winner’s name.

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