NORMAL — Even at 6 years old, Adarsh Shivaraman enjoys mental challenges, and on Monday he had a full day of them during the annual Martin Luther King Scholastic Chess Tournament at Illinois State University in Normal.

“I like the tactical strategy,” the first-grader from Colene Hoose Elementary School in Normal said after winning his opening match in the Bone Student Center's Brown Ballroom. “Chess is just a lot of fun.”

He was one of 260 participants in the tournament, founded about three decades ago by Garrett Scott, a former elementary school teacher who also served on the Normal City Council. The tournament brings kindergartners through eighth-graders from across the state.

“My son is the one who is wiggling around all over the place,” said Tricia Martin as she watched her 5-year-old son, Quinn, play his first-ever competitive chess match. “He learned how to play because his brother plays and he wanted to enter the tournament.

"Then, when we got here, he was nervous and said he couldn’t remember how to play. But he did fine.”

Quinn’s brother, Cruz, 8, also was in the tournament. The brothers are in kindergarten and second grade, respectively, at ISU's Thomas Metcalf School in Normal.

“I like castling,” Cruz said, referring to a move in which a king moves two squares toward a rook in the first rank and that rook moves at the same time to the square on the other side of the king.

“I just like thinking ahead and trying to win,” Cruz said.

Also entered into the tournament was Benedict Hendrickson, a 12-year-old home-schooled student who plays for Normal's Epiphany School Chess Club.

“I have been playing for about three years,” he said. “It’s just fun. I like to play with other kids.”

His opponent in the first round was Umika Kuricheti, 13, a student at Evans Junior High School in Bloomington.

“I’ve been playing since I was about 5 years old,” she said. “I like the strategy and I enjoy finding people who know how to play and can compete.”

That is the reason the tournament remains a Martin Luther King Day tradition in Normal, Scott said.

“I was an elementary school teacher most of my life and any time I am able to watch young players play chess and enjoying the benefits the challenge gives young people, I enjoy it,” he said. “There is no other downstate community that has chess activity like we do in Bloomington-Normal.”

Scott said that in a faster-paced world in which many kids spend their time playing video games, it is refreshing to see those who still have a passion for a game without electronics.

“Chess is a game where you have to think about each move and form a strategy and think two or three moves ahead,” he said. “It’s not quick and reactionary like most video games. It holds the player accountable for how much thinking and planning they do for each game.

"This is always one of my favorite days of the year.”

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