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North Elementary chums among state’s elite chess players

Well, that didn’t take long.

You were already three moves ahead.

And by the time your opponent looked up to really notice — it was too late.

That’s because he was too busy countering the moves you were actively making.

Look at his now-trapped, light-squared bishop, with all its once-deft diagonals, now gone.

Regard your pawn, a once-lowly soldier now transformed into the most powerful piece on the board, simply for plodding from one end of it to the other. A metaphor, if there ever was.

And the now-sad spectacle of the opposing king, also.  

Even more vulnerable now, Your once-Majesty, no underlings left to shield.


No one ever said chess doesn’t have drama.

It’s the ancient board game of strategy that always seems to survive in popular culture, no matter what.

Heck, it even owes its new resurgence to the pandemic.

That’s back to its most-recent incarnation in 2020 — the early days of the contagion, when people, sequestered just like that chess board king in his one-square-either-way domain, were looking for something to do.  

Two of West Virginia’s more-elite players, in the meantime, reside right here in Morgantown.  

You will, however, have to forgive this power duo for not necessarily embracing or fully understanding all the above history and metaphor of chess.

Not just yet.

Because right now, Pushkal Solanki and Dan Nguyen are just having fun.

And, if you don’t mind, don’t harbor them any ill will, either, for not hanging around to socialize after their matches.

They’re 9 years old. They still have bedtime.

Pushkal and Dan, who are both third-graders at North Elementary School, finished first and second, respectively, in their divisions at West Virginia Scholastic Chess Championship, which was held last weekend on the campus of West Virginia State University at Institute.

The win earned Pushkal a spot in the John D. Rockefeller III National Tournament of Elementary School State Champions, which will be in July in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Dan is his alternate.

The tournament is just as lofty as its name, Robert Greer said.

“It’s elite,” he said. “You definitely have to earn your way in.”

Greer, an attorney in Bridgeport, Harrison County, and former mayor of that town, has earned his way to a lot of fun — courtesy of the game he began playing as a teen.

That was back when he was enthralled, just like everyone else, by the board prowess of Bobby Fischer, America’s rock star chess champion in the 1970s.

Fischer was winning the Cold War by way of chess, Greer said, knocking off one Russian champion after the other.

“It was amazing to see,” Greer said.

“My dad played chess, and we had a board at the house. I got him to teach me.”

He was taken with it. He played in high school and college and law school, before the coursework got too heavy.

Greer always had a board at his house, however, even if his growing family, and growing law practice, made him too busy to play.

One day, one of his sons spied the board and expressed interest.

“I started showing him the basic moves and I got interested all over again,” he said.

He renewed his membership in the West Virginia Chess Association, which was founded in 1941 and is still acquiring members.

For the past several years, Greer has been coordinating tournaments for the scholastic championship arm of the association. He ran the one last weekend at West Virginia State, in fact.

He likes to see young people playing an old game chock-full of teachable moments and brain attributes, he said.

Chess is a game, he said, where every move has lasting consequences on the board.

It’s about critical thinking and getting synapses to fire — with sparks just like the dirty look Garry Kasparov gave to Deep Blue.

Greer was glad, he said, that Pushkal and Dan placed at the top in the tournament.

“They’re buddies,” he said.

“They haven’t actually played one another yet. That would be something to see.”

The attorney isn’t overselling the friendship.

The above winners cheer for each other in competition.

Both excel in math.

Both like to unwind with sports. Dan kicks a soccer ball and Pushkal shoots hoops.

And both have similar strategies with chess. Both always have the whole board in their sight, they said.

They envision the moves before they make them, and when they know they’re nearing the conclusion of a match, their collective chess-vision really vectors in, they said, as they grid their endgame.

So, what might happen if the friends and competitors actually squared off for a game?

“Stalemate,” both said.

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