Young players savor the fun, challenge of chess

Andy Wu, of Lawton Chiles Elementary, left, plays chess against Karthik Belthur during round 1 of the 2012 North Florida Championship of the Florida Scholastic Chess League, held at the Paramount Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, in Gainesville, Jan. 14, 2012.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 5:46 p.m.

Hosun Park gave up rollercoasters, cartoon characters and a vacation with his family to Universal Studios this weekend. Instead, he chose to stay home and play chess.

Hosun was one of 50 children signed up to compete in the 2012 North Florida Regional Scholastic Chess Championship, held Saturday at the Paramount Plaza Hotel.

Families and coaches supported the elementary-aged contestants during the eight-hour competition. The top three teams and three individuals in each section qualified for the Florida All-Star Tournament.

Hosun’s mom, Hyerim Han, said she knew she had to cancel the family’s vacation because her son didn’t want to miss his first chess tournament.

“Parents can’t push their kids to do something,” she said. “It depends on what the kids love to do. It was his decision to play chess this weekend.”

Eight-year-old Hosun has been playing chess for five months. His mom said he practices eight or nine hours a week.

“He is just crazy about it,” she said. “He is an active boy, but chess has got to be his favorite hobby.”

Han said she pays $125 a year for Hosun’s lessons at Wiles Elementary School.

The classes offered at schools are inexpensive compared to private lessons, tournament director Britt Ryerson said.

“It’s not that much money for how many weeks long the school lessons are,” he said. “Private lessons can be as much as $35 or $40 per lesson.”

After 22 years of playing and coaching chess, as well as earning a national title in 1996, Ryerson said he knows the level of commitment needed to excel at the game. However, the local children make time for other activities, he said.

“These kids are not so extreme that they play only chess,” he said. “Many play instruments, participate in sports and are all around well-rounded.”

Anthony Bishop-Gyllys, a 9-year-old competitor, also plays piano and soccer. He said he enjoys the physicality of sports, but the critical thinking used in chess makes it his favorite hobby.

“It is very strategic and good for the mind,” he said. “It really helps me in math class.”

In fact, Anthony has received all A’s in his classes since second grade. He said chess is one of the reasons why he focuses well in school.

Michelle Bishop, Anthony’s mom, said she can see the benefits of chess in his schoolwork, friendships and home life.

“It’s just a fun extracurricular for them,” she said. “It’s a great way to meet other kids and learn how to think through life problems.” Bishop said Anthony has been in Williams Elementary School’s chess club for two years. She recently enrolled him in private lessons with George Pyne for $30 an hour.

“The great thing with chess club is it’s reasonable,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a huge financial commitment.”

Anthony’s brother, 7-year-old Matthew Bishop-Gyllys, joins the lessons at a discount. Anthony said Matthew has yet to beat him, but he won’t mind when it happens.

“I would be so proud of my little brother if he beat me,” Anthony said with a smile.

Until then, Anthony will continue playing against his dad and grandpa every day after school. “It’s not about winning for me,” he said. “It’s about having a blast.”

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