SAINT ANDREWS – For the first time in the history of the Canadian Chess Challenge, 2021 saw the tournament held online. An initiative the national Chess’n Math Association, each provincial team consists of the top player from Grades 1 through 12. The provincial team is chosen through district and provincial competitions, and then competes with teams from across the country.

Victoria Pedersen, whose son Magnus has been competing since he was in Kindergarten, said Team NB placed fifth, which is the best the province has done as a team in “as long as anybody could remember”.

“We had an amazing weekend,” said Pedersen. “We had the team all together, so there were the 12 grades there, and they played their games against each of the provinces, all 10 provinces.

“We were up against Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, so to do that well against Saskatchewan and Manitoba, provinces that have larger populations than us, that’s really amazing.”

Pedersen said the tournament was held online due to COVID-19. In 2019 it was held in Vancouver, and 2020 saw it cancelled completely due to the pandemic. She and her husband discussed how disappointing it was the kids would have to play at home rather than in-person, so they devised the plan to bring Team NB together.

“I said it’s disappointing that these kids that won for their grade are going to be in this national tournament, and they’re each going to be at their own house, playing on a computer by themselves,” said Pedersen. “I remember when we would go to that tournament, the big thing for my son was all these other chess-loving kids, in between games, they would be sitting and playing chess, talking about the best moves.”

Pedersen suggested as it was 12 players and their families, maybe they take part from Saint Andrews so they could be together as a team and “celebrate their accomplishments”. Her husband suggested the Huntsman Marine Science Centre.

Pedersen got a price estimate, and contacted the New Brunswick branch of the Chess’n Math Association to ask if they would consider having the team play their games in Saint Andrews. The association loved the idea, and in the short span of just three weeks, had everything arranged, for Team NB to gather in one place.

“I had the deputy mayor (of Saint Andrews, Kate Akagi) come for the opening ceremony,” said Pedersen. “Ian Curran from St. Stephen who plays bagpipes came to lead the kids out. It was really neat. All 12 families came, and they loved it.”

The team met on Friday, June 25. The players got to hang out with each other during the meet and greet, and the opening ceremony was held the following morning. On Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27, games began at 1 p.m. and the last game finished around 7 p.m. There were a total of nine rounds, and teams consisted of the top player from each grade throughout their province. Team NB’s first round was played against Quebec. Every player that has a win receives one point. If the game is a draw, each player receives half of a point. The winning province for each round also receives a point.

“It’s kind of a team and an individual effort,” said Pedersen. “The kids in each grade end up getting ranked from first to tenth based on how they do in their grade. Then, the provinces get points for each round that they win, and then they say which province wins. There were nine rounds, 10 provinces in all. It is confusing. It took me a while before I understood how it went.”

The winning team came from Ontario, with a total of nine points, followed by Quebec with eight points. New Brunswick had 4.5 points in total, finishing in fifth place. Pedersen said Magnus came in fourth overall for Grade 3, and there were two other Team NB players who came in fourth for their grades.

So, how did Magnus get interested in the game of chess? She said when he was in Grade 1, both he and his brother wanted to learn how to play so they could join the Vincent Massey chess club. Both children picked up the game quite quickly, and it wasn’t long before they were beating their parents.

“My son Magnus…actually won provincials in Kindergarten, and in Grade 1. In Grade 2 it was cancelled because of COVID. He won again this year.”

Pedersen said Magnus was disappointed he didn’t get to play in a playoff game. In the other grades, if they had six points, they would be in playoffs, but it depends on how other kids in the grades did. In Magnus’ case, the first, second, and third place for his grade each had one more point than he did.

Being able to gather as a team to play in the tournament was a great experience for everyone. Pedersen said Magnus told her it was more fun than when they went to Vancouver two years ago.

“I think it was because in Vancouver, we stayed at UBC, which was beautiful, but everybody was spread out all around the campus,” said Pedersen. “We only saw our team when we were together for the games, whereas with this, we were all at the Huntsman. They have those beautiful lawns, so Sir James Dunn Academy had lent me their giant chess set. So, the kids, they were just hanging out together all weekend. They would be playing outside on tables. They were using the giant chess set, or they were playing baseball or soccer.”

Pedersen would like to thank the Town of Saint Andrews, as well as the local businesses which donated items for the Canadian Chess Challenge 2021. She said the businesses were “so generous”. A chess cake was donated by Seasons by the Sea. Other businesses donated fudge, candy, toques, and more to put inside the kids’ bags.

“It was pretty much a community effort,” said Pedersen. “The NB Chess’n Math Association helped pay some of the costs for the families to come. They usually help the families of the players. They either pay for a couple of nights’ accommodation or give some money towards their transport to get there. It was really nice that the team came together and the kids had so much fun.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca