Most second and third graders probably have fairly modest plans for next week. Josiah Stearman and Ben Rood, however, will be getting on a plane for Brazil to compete in the World Junior Chess Championships in Caldas Novas. The boys are the latest students of the Berkeley Chess School to represent the United States at the world championships.
From modest beginnings nearly 30 years ago, the Berkeley Chess School now runs 120 different classes throughout the Bay Area. Stearman and Rood attend classes in Orinda and work under John Griefe, an international master who was US chess champion in 1973. Both boys started playing chess when they were four years old.
“It was fun to play,” said Rood. “Now I like it because it’s strategic.”
“I think it’s challenging and I like to study and practice,” said Stearman.
It’s good that Stearman enjoys the study because he reckons he spends several hours each day practicing and playing. Rood figures he spends at least eight hours a week on chess. Both boys study the game and play plenty of games online.
When Rood and Stearman travel to Brazil next week, they’ll be part of a 63-strong US team, with players in age groups from under 8 (which is where these two will play) to under 18. There are another eight boys and two girls playing under 8 for the US.
Rood qualified for the championships because he finished first in his grade at the US Chess Federation National Elementary Chess Championships, becoming the national first-grade champion. Stearman qualified as the highest USCF rated under-8 player in the country. Stearman has a rating of 1712 and Rood is rated 1650. Those ratings would make both boys reasonably strong adult players. At their age, it’s exceptional.
The last Berkeley Chess School player to make it to the world juniors was Sam Shankland, who became the under 18 world champion in 2008.
When asked which chess players they admire, both boys name Bobby Fischer. Stearman also admires Tigran Petrosian. Rood points to José Raúl Capablanca as a model as well. Both boys reach back over 150 years for another model they cite: the US chess prodigy Paul Morphy, who retired from the game in his late 20s as probably the strongest player in the world.
The trips to the world juniors will cost both families around $5,000. The Berkeley Chess School is trying to raise support through a campaign on Indie Go Go.
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