Molly Tefft, front center, and Gabe Eaton, right center, participate in the online based Maine Middle School Online Chess League tournament in March. They are surrounded by the rest of their team, while competing with other students online. Contributed / Nathan Tefft

A Brunswick elementary and middle school online chess club that got started to fight pandemic boredom has scored some tournament success and is looking forward to the upcoming in-person season.

Nathan Tefft and his daughter Molly, already a seasoned chess player, started the K-8 club to keep kids connected and doing something constructive during the pandemic. The club went on to place high in a number of online tournaments over the past few months.

“l like chess because it’s not simple like checkers,” said Molly, a seventh grader. “There are so many combinations that can happen. It’s very strategic, which can help you in different parts of life.”

Club member Gabe Eaton, an eighth grader, also has been playing for while, but until now he hadn’t played in any tournaments. The online contests gave him a taste for chess competition.

“When I learned to play from my grandpa he always beat me, and we’d flip the board so I had a chance against him,” Gabe said. “At one point I was just as good, and more recently I beat him every time,” Eaton said.

Both Eaton and Tefft are on the club’s grades 6-8 team, which finished third in the Maine Online Middle School Chess League tournament in March.

The younger team  also did just as well, placing second in the 2021 online Webber Cup Championship hosted by Bonny Eagle High School and third place in the Maine Scholastic Team Chess Championship.

When not competing in tournaments, the club members practice with each other and with players from around the globe on Chess.com.

“I think over the pandemic I would have been really bored without chess,” Gabe said.

His mother agrees.

“This has given Gabe so much to do, and we can nerd out and play games together,” Carrie Eaton said. “There are much worse things to get into over the pandemic, and I am happy to see Gabe making connections that are meaningful.

“It’s been such a place for him to learn on his own, and that’s a big thing with all kids at home during the pandemic. I think it made him a better student,” she said.

As pandemic restrictions on social distancing begin to loosen up,  Gabe and Molly look forward to in-person tournaments, although that doesn’t mean giving up the online games.

“I will keep playing online too, try out new moves and get better,” Molly said.

While online tournaments are hard and can take up to three hours, they said, in-person tournaments can take last upwards of eight hours and are more mentally taxing. Their pandemic play has prepared them for that, they said.

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