Avrumel and Sam Ruben are always thinking three moves ahead.
The 13-year-old twin boys got into the chess groove last fall when a friend introduced them to the Mount Washington School chess club. Both showed a natural aptitude for the board game and recently helped lead the team to a statewide win in their class.
In May, the club will compete in the national chess championship in Nashville. They have launched a GoFundMe campaign to finance the $14,000 excursion. Funds will cover transportation, hotel, food and entrance fees for the team’s 11 players.
The U.S. Chess Federation will host the nationals with former world champion Garry Kasparov slated to attend, along with the first black chess grandmaster, Maurice Ashley. As a “super national” event, this year’s competition will feature players from grades kindergarten through high school.
Founded in 1939, U.S. Chess serves more than 85,000 members and 2,000 chess clubs. It sanctions and rates more than 10,000 tournaments and over half a million games a year, including over 25 national championships.
Rachel Ruben, Avrumel and Sam’s mom, is thrilled with her sons’ newest passion.
“I didn’t think of it as being anything more than fun at first, but then they started competing and it just kind of bloomed,” she says. “I don’t know how they picked this up, but they picked it up pretty quickly.”
The twins, who are in the seventh grade at the K-8 school, have dabbled in ice hockey, football and video games, but something about chess just clicked for them. Avrumel says he likes the intellectual challenge and rigor of the game.
“There are many games where you stare at a phone or a computer, but you don’t really use your mind,” he says. “With chess, you use tactics and strategies, you have to find different ways of playing rather than just doing the same thing over and over again.”
The game started out as just fun for the Ruben boys, and even when the brothers play each other at home it is still mostly a recreational activity. But once you introduce the concept of competition into the equation, Sam lights up.
“It happened after my first tournament. That’s when I really started to understand how to incorporate multiple strategies into each move,” he says. “When we’re playing a home, it’s a different vibe. There are all these noises, all these activities. In a tournament, it’s silent in the room. You can hear a pencil or a piece moving.”
Rachel Ruben says she isn’t surprised to hear that the high-intensity face-offs helped to spark the kids’ enthusiasm. She says it’s perfectly in character.
“They are both competitive kids, so it makes sense that if they took on something new, it would be something highly competitive,” she says.
So how does one become a chess king? Avrumel talks about the importance of getting in the other player’s head, anticipating that next move. For Sam, focus is key.
“If you lose a piece, you can’t get mad,” he says. “You have to just try to understand how you made that mistake. That’s how you learn to get better.”
Visit the Mount Washington School chess club’s GoFundMe page.
Top photo: Mount Washington School Chess Club (Courtesy of Rachel Ruben)
Adam Stone is an Annapolis-based freelance writer.
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