Team NB ties for fifth in Canadian Chess Challenge

Submitted photo The 2022 Team New Brunswick chess team placed fifth in the Canadian Chess Challenge again this year. Teammates include, front, from left, Magnus Justason (Grade 4), Jasper Guo (Grade 2), Andreas Doemer (Grade 3), Harrod Doemer (Kindergarten), Logan Milburn (Grade 1). Second row, Shin Chaehwan (Grade 7), Yadian Wang (Grade 6), Darrin Liu (Grade 5), Vincent LeBlanc (Grade 8). Third row, Yi Yang (Grade 11), Jacob Cheng (Grade 10), Julian Powers (Grade 9), Paul Vigneau (Grade 12). Back row, NB Chess’n Math Association president Eric Robitaille, Saint Andrews Deputy Mayor Kate Akagi, bagpiper Dana Planetta, NB Chess’n Math Association director of finance Josh Makarov.

SAINT ANDREWS – It was another fifth place finish for Team NB in this year’s Canadian Chess Challenge.

The team placed fifth last year, however tied this year for the position with both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

The competition features the top chess players in every grade from Kindergarten to Grade 12, unified to compete against other provinces. The competition moved to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years, however, Team NB came together in Saint Andrews as a team where they competed individually, as they did last year. By doing so, it provides the team with an experience closer to what the real, in-person event would have given them.

“We were all really pleased,” said Victoria Justason, mother of Grade 4 team member Magnus Justason and organizer of the competition weekend.

Justason says her son was “super excited,” for the weekend-long competition. “He told me it was more fun in Saint Andrews because we were all together.”

Justason said the team faced many tough players, but everyone had a great time.

“This year, the kids really seemed to interact with each other … we were the only province to come together like that,” she said. “They had so much fun and played a lot of chess, and they still wanted to play more.”

At the end of the competition, a winner for each grade is declared. Additionally, the scores of every player on each team are totaled, and a winning team is determined.

“It’s an individual game, but how you do as a team is really important,” said Justason.

The students came together from all across New Brunswick to compete for their province. The team consists of the top player from each grade, which is decided at the provincial competition. Every year sees a different combination of team members, based on the results from that provincial competition.

Team NB’s third grade player, Andreas Doemer, placed second in his grade.

Justason sees this get together as a chance for the teammates to get to know who they’re competing with and experience a sense of camaraderie, cheering on their teammates in person, instead of from their separate living rooms.

“They’ve worked so hard to represent their province,” she said.

“There was one team member who had previously always come second or third at provincials and had never been to nationals. It was awesome to have him there last year.”

Sponsored by the Chess’n Math Association, a non-profit dedicated to developing and promoting youth chess in the province, the team spent the weekend at a hotel. They played plenty of chess matches, had a team meet and greet, and attended a banquet at the Huntsman Fundy Discovery Aquarium where professional bagpiper Dana Planetta accompanied their entrance.

Local businesses donated a variety of items for the team, which Justason says really made them feel special.

“I don’t think we could live in a more generous area, it’s really amazing,” she said.

Since her eldest son first showed interest in joining the chess team at school, the entire family has picked up the game.

“They both wanted to do it, and Magnus just loves it,” she said.

It’s uncommon to see chess competitions for children in the area, Justason explains, and says her son has competed in tournaments against adults.

“There’s no other sport where you can be an equal with an adult,” she said.

Not only has this allowed him to improve his skills as a chess player, but it has also provided him with the opportunity to speak with adults on a common ground.

“It’s quite a social thing,” she said.

Justason says that she has seen an increase in the interest surrounding the game since the pandemic, and the release of popular Netflix series The Queens Gambit.

“I think it’s made people more aware of (chess). I’ve met a lot of people who said it got them back into it.”