A showcase of skill and sportsmanship

Eli Embrey, 11, plays a game of chess with his dad Brian Donnelly using the new set that Embrey received as a prize for winning first place in the 12 and under category of the End of Year Gallup Chess Tournament at mini传媒入口-Gallup Saturday, June 6, 2023.

A showcase of skill and sportsmanship


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mini传媒入口-Gallup hosts chess tournament for players ranging in age from 5-77

By Richard Reyes, Tuesday, June 6, 2023

GALLUP, N.M. 鈥 At only age 11, Eli Embrey showed tremendous chess prowess by winning the top spot in his age category in the inaugural End of Year Gallup Chess Tournament at mini传媒入口-Gallup on Saturday, June 3, 2023.

Embrey, a Tobe Turpen Elementary graduate and soon-to-be Chief Manuelito Middle School student, won three of his games, lost one game, and drew one game against a player three times his age during the five-round tournament, which is believed to be the first of its kind in Gallup in at least a decade.

Gallup Chess Tournament

mini传媒入口-Gallup Associate Professor Matt Mingus, who serves as a faculty advisor for the Lobos Chess Club, captures one of his opponent's pieces during the End of Year Gallup Chess Tournament at mini传媒入口-Gallup Saturday, June 3, 2023.

鈥淚 was scared for a bit,鈥 Embrey said of his game against mini传媒入口-Gallup Associate Professor Matt Mingus, which ended in a draw. 鈥淚 knew I messed up for a bit.鈥

But Embrey didn鈥檛 resign and found a way to stalemate his opponent in the endgame despite being down material. His prize for coming out on top in the 12 and under youth category: a new chess set courtesy of the Octavia Fellin Public Library and the Revolution Chess Club.

鈥淚鈥檓 ecstatic,鈥 Embrey鈥檚 father Brian Donnelly said of his son鈥檚 final result. 鈥淢y father was an excellent chess player, 鈥 but my dad would make me sit down and play. We never forced him (Eli). For him to want to do it, I was getting teary-eyed a few times. When I saw his game from a year ago to now, it鈥檚 just been incredible. I鈥檓 very proud of him.鈥

鈥淚t鈥檚 awesome,鈥 his mother Dusti Embrey added. 鈥淚t鈥檚 nice to see him developing. His critical thinking skills are really on point.鈥

Eli Embrey said he has been playing chess for about a year and a half. He mostly learns from playing consistently with the Octavia Fellin Public Library Chess Club, which meets every Tuesday and Friday at the Children鈥檚 Branch.

Starting a chess revolution

Octavia Fellin鈥檚 Youth Services Librarian Phil Neilson organized the chess tournament while Brendan Moore, the library鈥檚 chess coach, and Rodney Brown, founder of Revolution Chess, served as tournament co-directors.

Neilson said there have been chess clubs at the library in the past, but Moore was the driving force behind the current iteration of the club, which started in August 2022. Neilson said the high level of interest in the club inspired him, Moore and Brown to work on hosting a local tournament.

They then approached mini传媒入口-Gallup Zollinger Library Director Markos Chavez and Sr. Public Relations Specialist Richard Reyes to see if they wanted to get involved. Chavez and Reyes facilitated the use of the Student Services & Technology Center on campus as the tournament venue.

鈥淭his is definitely one of the best spaces, even of other tournaments I鈥檝e been to,鈥 Moore said.

鈥淭his is definitely one of the best spaces, even of other tournaments I鈥檝e been to,鈥 Moore said.

Gallup Chess Tournament

Phil Neilson, the youth services librarian for Octavia Fellin Public Library, makes a move during a giant chess game against Isaac Mingus in between rounds of the End of Year Gallup Chess Tournament at mini传媒入口-Gallup Saturday, June 3, 2023.

鈥淔or sure,鈥 Brown added. 鈥淭his is one of the nicest I鈥檝e ever been, and I鈥檝e been to a lot of tournaments.鈥

mini传媒入口-Gallup also has its own student chess club, the Lobos Chess Club. Mingus serves as one of the faculty advisors along with Assistant Professor Andrew McFeaters, and Reyes helps coach. Club Vice President LaDre Wero was one of 27 players, ranging in age from 5 to 77 years old, who participated in the tournament.

鈥淚 don鈥檛 think it could have gone better,鈥 Moore said after the conclusion of the event. 鈥淲e had excitement. Those tie breaks (at the end) were really close. We had a lot of skill, even in the younger categories. I couldn鈥檛 be happier with how it went.鈥

鈥楾he competition was excellent鈥

The tie-breaks that Moore mentioned happened between the top two overall players, Jacob Walters and Bronson Huber, as well as the top two players in the 13 and over category, Cash Long and Austin Cervantes.

Gallup Chess Tournament

LaDre Wero, left, who is the vice president of the Lobos Chess Club, ponders his next move against Steve Maus during the End of Year Gallup Chess Tournament at mini传媒入口-Gallup Saturday, June 3, 2023.

All four players ended the tournament with 4 points each because they each won four games and lost one during the five rounds of play.

In the end, Walters beat Huber to earn first place overall, while Long beat Cervantes to earn first in the 13 and over category.

鈥淚t always feels good to win,鈥 Walters said after the match, 鈥渂ut I feel lucky as well because the competition was excellent. All of our players here were great, so I feel blessed to have the opportunity to play.鈥

鈥淚t didn鈥檛 really matter to me,鈥 Long said of his win. 鈥淎s long as I had fun and played, it was good.鈥

Huber said it was still awesome earning second place overall in his first-ever chess tournament.

鈥淚t was nerve wracking, but I鈥檓 an adrenaline junky working for the fire department, so I love those feelings of angst and having to make the right move and make it on time,鈥 Huber said.

鈥楥hess is also kind of like life鈥

Bronson Huber鈥檚 daughter, Riley Huber, also played in the tournament. Despite losing all five of her games, she said she enjoyed the experience, particularly because of the quiet atmosphere during play.

Bronson Huber said both he and his daughter have attention-deficient/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), so he loves what chess does for their brains.

鈥淲e鈥檙e just able to get lost in it,鈥 he said. 鈥淎ll the noise stops when you鈥檙e just focusing on that board, so it鈥檚 really cool. I really love chess. I鈥檝e been playing for just a couple years, and she鈥檚 starting to get into it. She鈥檚 starting to see how that works and how it helps with the ADHD.鈥

鈥淚 feel like chess is also kind of like life,鈥 Riley Huber added. 鈥淟ife is an order of moves. So is chess.鈥

Walters said he loves chess because of the satisfaction in finding astounding sacrifices and little tactics that appear to be mistakes but end up winning the game.

鈥淚t鈥檚 just a beautiful game,鈥 he said. 鈥淎nd the better you get at the game, the more you appreciate its beauty.鈥

Benefits of playing chess

Neilson said playing chess teaches children a lot of life skills, such as patience, analytical thinking and planning. There is also the satisfaction of figuring out puzzles, thinking things through, and finding order and control.

Brown said chess may also help kids with their reasoning, math and spatial skills in addition to their creativity and initiative. There are also life lessons, such as not resigning and playing though to the end 鈥 just like Eli Embrey did in his drawn game against Mingus.

Neilson said the game can also teach sportsmanship and how to lose gracefully. He said he was particularly struck by how positive and supportive everyone was during the tournament, even if they didn鈥檛 place or win a prize. He credited Moore for setting that tone in the library鈥檚 chess club.

鈥淥ne of the things Brendan said way early on in the chess club was, 鈥極ne of the best ways to learn chess is to lose at chess,鈥欌 Neilson said. 鈥淭o play something where losing is a good thing is really important. I just felt that in the tournament. There was that sense of positivity and losing graciously.鈥

Get involved, play chess

Neilson said that he hopes this tournament was just the starting point for bigger tournaments in Gallup in the future.

Inspired by the success of the tournament, mini传媒入口-Gallup鈥檚 Zollinger Library is starting a new weekly event called Summer Chess Duels from noon-2 p.m. every Monday, starting June 12. All ages and skill levels are welcome.

The mini传媒入口-Gallup Lobos Chess Club is inactive for the summer, but it will start up again in the Fall 2023 semester. All ages are welcome to the club鈥檚 weekly Chess Jam, but 75% of the club鈥檚 membership must be mini传媒入口 students.

The Octavia Fellin Chess Club remains active during the summer. All ages are welcome, but it is targeted at the 8-18 age range. The club meets from 4:30-5:30 p.m. every Tuesday for lessons/practice and from 4:30-5:30 p.m. every Friday for open/casual play.

For more information about the Zollinger Library Summer Chess Duels, contact Markos Chavez at 505-863-7531 or markos@unm.edu.

For more information about the mini传媒入口-Gallup Lobos Chess Club, contact Andrew McFeaters at avmcfeats@unm.edu.

For more information about the Octavia Fellin Public Library Chess Club, contact Phil Neilson at 505-863-1291 or pneilson@gallupnm.gov.