Thornton Academy sophomore Agata Sloniewska defeated four opponents to win the Maine Girls’ Closed Chess Championship earlier this month in Bangor. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

SACO — Becoming a great chess player requires total concentration while exhibiting a passion for the game and those are two elements Agata Sloniewska clearly demonstrated in winning the Maine Girls’ Closed Chess Championship in Bangor earlier this month.

Sloniewska, 16, is a sophomore at Thornton Academy in Saco and is from Poland. She’s been playing chess for the past seven years after learning the game in her hometown of Warsaw. Winning the state title has also qualified her to compete as the representative from Maine at the U.S. Girls’ National Chess Championship in Orlando, Florida, in August.

“I first started after watching my brother and my father playing chess,” Sloniewska said. “It looked interesting to me and I loved the strategy involved with it.”

After playing against her family, she took lessons from a chess teacher in Poland and says she became better with the more games she played.

“I joined a club and participated in club competitions,” Sloniewska said. “For me the hardest part of the game has been developing a strategy and thinking ahead during a game. At first I didn’t have experience so everybody surprised me. Now I have a better idea of what to look for. Once I played more games, I learned more tactics and what to expect from the other players.”

She entered the Maine Girls’ Closed Chess Championship for students in Kindergarten through Grade 12 and ranked as the top player in the tournament, but it was no easy task to defeat four opponents to claim the championship. Three of her four matches lasted more than an hour, and she said she was particularly challenged in her final match at the event.

“Without a doubt, the hardest match there was the last one I played,” she said. “I was really nervous, but I focused on countering my opponent’s strategy and that helped.”

But with the pressure on and the championship at stake, Sloniewska’s tactics and experience prevailed.

“Every game is different, so I just had to bear down and think about what I was doing,” she said. “I don’t like making a mistake.”

She accepted the first-place trophy for winning the state title from Grandmaster Sabina Foisor, the 2017 U.S. Women’s Chess Champion as well as the U.S. Chess player of the year for 2017.

As part of her overall game, Sloniewska said she pays particular attention to moves made by her opponent to pounce on possible errors.

“After the first couple of moves, you can determine your strategy based on your opponent’s style of play,” she said. “The strongest part of my game is my end-game strategy. I’ve been trained to attack my opponent to win the game.”

Her next tournament will be the Maine High School Team Chess Championships during the first weekend in March. She will compete with four other Thornton Academy chess players and try to bring home the championship for the school. She’ll also vie for the Maine High School individual chess championship and then compete in the U.S. Girls’ National Championship later this summer.

Undecided on what career to pursue after finishing her school studies, Sloniewska says that her favorite classes at Thornton Academy are digital design and physical education.

“I do think playing chess has helped with my schoolwork,” she said. “It has taught me to concentrate and focus on my studies and it’s a lot of fun.”

The trophy she won for the Maine Girls’ Closed Chess Championship is in her dorm room at Thornton Academy and she said her family was excited to hear about her winning the title.

“They are all so proud,” Sloniewska said.

And incredibly during the Maine Girls’ Closed Chess Championship, Sloniewska also found time to give advice to a Thornton Academy teammate and friend about her games in the tournament.

“I just told her to try and think like your opponents think,” she said. “That’s all part of the strategy.”

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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