18 Oct Richmond Chess Festival Back for Year Four
Two young men think deeply about their next moves on the chess board.
Story and photos by Joe Porrello
The West Coast Chess Alliance held its fourth Richmond Chess Festival on Oct. 14.
The chess tournament is on the second Saturday of October in accordance with and to celebrate National Chess Day.
This year, Richmond Spirit and Soul held its 15th annual festival on the same day. Loud music from the festival could be heard inside at the tournament, but the players played on, seemingly unbothered.
Roughly 50 players from a wide range of ages were split into groups of four based on skill level in what is referred to as a quad-style tournament.
Each player in a quad plays all three opponents; a win earns one point, a draw equals half a point, and a loss nets zero points.
Whoever tallied the most points in their quad earned a trophy, with 12 pieces of hardware being handed out to individual winners.
Two trophy winners were brothers Aaron and Blake Tsang, sixth and ninth graders, respectively. Their mother, Judy, praised the tournament.
“It’s awesome. This is our second year,” she said. “I think it’s great that the kids are learning and I’m grateful for coach TC Ball for putting the event together.”
Everyone who played received a medal, though event organizers assured them that it was not for participation, but a medal they genuinely earned.
Ball said he and event organizers set a limit of 100 players, but a small number of people secured many registration spots and some did not show up.
WCCA tried to get the word out that walk-ups would be welcome to fill the empty slots but ended up with a number of unused tables.
“Because it’s free, some people take advantage of that,” he said. “A similar tournament to what we’re doing here — if you went anywhere else — would be between $25-40.”
Boards, pieces, and clocks were provided for players, who abided partly by official U.S. Chess Federation rules — like having to move a piece if it is touched.
“One of the benefits of chess is learning discipline, and discipline is not touching a piece until you’re ready to move it,” said Ball. “It teaches you patience. It teaches you how to develop a plan of action.”
Ball highlighted some other positive aspects of chess he has seen throughout his 40 years working in community chess, including as a certified USCF instructor.
“There’s a lot of purity in it because it’s a game of total disclosure; nothing is hidden,” he said. “I tell my students all the time, ‘Respect your opponent, because they will see what you see.’ ”
“I remember when my daughter was still very young we would bring her to tournaments like this and build her confidence.”
Now, Lope’s daughter is a California women’s chess state champion; he is himself a Chess Expert, an official ranking that comes slightly below Grandmasters, the highest level of USCF rating.
The WCCA gives its students wristbands that say “Grand Master In training,” as motivation.
“I wear one because even though I’ve been playing for 40 years, I’m still learning,” said Ball.
Another advantage of chess Ball mentioned was gaining skill sets that can be applied in other areas of life, like openness to improvement, being humble, improved focus and concentration, how to win and lose, and how to think — the latter of which he said is especially important for children.
“Nobody talks about how to think until you get to graduate school,” he said.
Working in the biochemistry field previously himself, Ball said chess promotes a scientific way of thinking: The chess board is like a laboratory where one can test their game strategy, or hypothesis.
Multiple parents with kids in the tournament agreed chess is a great way to get children temporarily off of screens.
Ball said one of the greatest things about chess is how it enhances diversity and inclusion.
“It’s gender-neutral. It’s not about strength or how fast you are,” he said.
Jose Vasquez-Medina uses chess as a way to bond with son Matteo, and has brought him to multiple past chess tournaments in the area.
“It’s an amazing opportunity, right?” he said. “It’s great that these events are happening in our community.”
Norma Contreras was in attendance representing the Richmond Police Department and both of her daughters participated in the event.
“I grew up in (Richmond), so I’m happy to bring my daughters here and incorporate them in the community,” she said. “It’s awesome to have them interact with other kids.”
One of Contreras’ daughters playing in the event, Erandy Scarlette Cano, said she recently developed a liking for chess after learning the rules only to help her older sister practice for the tournament.
She was nervous before the event began, but now Erandy is looking forward to more similar tournaments.
The WCCA holds chess events at San Pablo Library every Friday and at Hercules Library the first Wednesday of every month and works in 10 different Bay Area schools.
Ball said chess had a big resurgence in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that apps to play live opponents remotely saw a large increase in user traffic.
“Part of it relates to ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ the Netflix series; that did more for chess than Bobby Fischer,” he said, referring to the famed grandmaster.
Moving forward, Ball and WCCA are helping make an official school chess league in the Bay Area for elementary, intermediate, and high schools.
“I really see it growing,” he said. “Hopefully in a year or two, we’ll be taking students to Northern California Regional Tournaments.”
As of now, Ball says regional chess tournaments in the area lack West Contra Costa County representation.