Last year they were the state middle school champs and finished second in the country in the unrated (translate rookie) division of the United States Chess Federation national tournament . Two of the boys, Cheng Xiong and Ismael Mendez-Perez, finished fifth and sixth respectively in the country.
Everything was new to them last year. They had never played in a major tournament. Then math teacher Leif Neilsen brought together a combination of resources from throughout the twin cities and built a team. The YMCA, through their Beacons Program, provided transportation and a second coach. Minneapolis Chess, an area nonprofit, provided additional training and funding. The Castle Chess Club in Northeast Minneapolis provided one-on-one mentoring.
Every Tuesday, the boys met after school to practice as a team from 3 pm until 5:30 pm. They would have dinner together and they travelled by van to the Castle Chess Center. At that time, they worked with eight individual chess mentors, men with good chess skills from throughout the Twin Cities. They recorded their games, and played under strict time control, using chess clocks. After each game, they went over their games, move by move, looking for ways to improve.
Their studies paid off. In March, at the state tournament, they were the top middle school team in the state. At the national tournament, they beat everyone in their division except a team from Washington. This year, the team is returning four eighth graders, along with 6-10 fourth through seventh graders. Competition for the top spots on the team will be tough.
Anyone, from age 4 to 94 is invited to stop by the North regional library every Saturday, on the corner of Lowry and Fremont Avenues N in Minneapolis from 12:30 until 3. Some of the Nellie Stone Johnson kids and one of their coaches will likely be there and they would like to engage you in a game of chess.
There is also open chess at the Castle Chess Club near the Northwest corner of Broadway and Central Avenues in Northeast Minneapolis, from 6:30 until 10 pm every Tuesday. Just look for a reddish-orange building and use the Broadway Avenue entrance. All are welcome. Park your ego at the door, though. These kids are Good!!!