With most of the island on lockdown in December, the island's youth chess athletes put their talents to the test, elevating their game IQ and representing the island proudly in the FIDE Online World Cadets & Youth Rapid Chess Tournaments 2020.
Thousands of youth players across the world competed for a shot to be in the top 12 and represent their region in the finals. While none of the island players advanced, the competition offered a wealth of knowledge for the first timers, said Guam Chess Federation President Almer Santos.
"It's the first time that we included juniors for international event. They fought hard and played excellent," he said. "In the end of their games, they lost by time because of inexperience and time trouble."
The junior chess players were recognized in a short award ceremony, Jan. 10, at the Burger King restaurant in East Hagåtña. All participants were given a $50 cash prize for participating in the online forum. Cyle Sarmiento, a freshman at Simon Sanchez High School received a larger prize of $200 for winning 35% of his seven matches against higher level and more skilled athletes.
Sarmiento in a previous interview said he hadn't much confidence entering the tournament, especially playing against an opponent with nearly twice the experience and rated higher in the world of chess.
But, after a short pep talk, he cued up and locked in.
“Unfortunately, due to his experience and almost master rating, he was able to outplay me toward the end, but I am grateful to have challenged such a skilled player," said the 15-year-old.
Santos said he is proud of all of his chess athletes and their contribution toward the sport on island as a whole.
"They played against much higher rated players, and some are masters," Santos said. "In my assessment, these juniors will have a good future in chess."
For Sarmiento, he is eager to test his newfound knowledge, apply lessons learned and increase his game IQ after playing a ranked player.
“One thing I wish I had done differently was to take more time in my moves and analyze them deeper,” he said. “Every tournament I enter is another learning experience for me. ... In chess, I believe there are no lost games, but only games you can learn from."
Santos said he has plans to expand the sport and raise game play on island. The move to go online is expected, he said, due to COVID-19. However, as restrictions are lifted, that may change and include in-person competition and training.
Some of the plans include weekly chess tournaments for all ages U10 and up. There are plans, Santos said, to increase membership through school and village chess clubs. Another facet of the plan is to get more people with disabilities to consider chess as an option with them joining more local, regional and international competitions.
From there, Santos said, the sport can only grow to include school, village and commercial tournaments held annually. That will increase skill levels and hopefully raise the rankings for island players as they test their mettle against international participants.
The increased participation should improve the federation's status as a whole in terms of FIDE ratings and levels.
For now though, Santos said, the club is focusing on hosting an online tournament in the near future.