By Natalie Chun
Nicolas Checa, a 17-year-old Grandmaster chess player from Dobbs Ferry, is headed for the US Junior Championship in St. Louis next month, where he will join the top 10 players in the nation to compete for a $20,600 prize.
The national championships will be hosted by Saint Louis Chess Club from July 10-20 and will feature the US Junior and US Girls’ Junior Championships and the U.S. Senior Championship. Checa has attended the national championships twice before, in 2016 and 2017.
“I’m optimistic going into it,” Checa said. “Since I’ve played two times before, I kind of know what the tournament is like, I know kind of how to approach it.”
In addition to his experience with this particular tournament, however, Checa is already a highly successful player.
In 2012, he became the U12 National Champion in the USCF/Chess.com Invitational Championship. A year later, when he was only 11, he became the youngest New York State Champion in history. He still holds that record today.
Checa originally began playing chess in his home at the age of four and quickly began competing in local scholastic tournaments, while still in elementary school.
“They were typically local, they were usually around Westchester,” Checa said. “And then once I stopped playing those and started playing in tournaments with adults and higher level competition, I really developed a lot as a player.”
One of the ways Checa has developed as a player is by reading. Pointing to a tall bookcase overflowing with books, Checa explained that all those books were about chess, and contributed to much of his growth.
“Especially when I was younger, I really devoured a lot of [the chess books] so I think that definitely played a role in my development,” Checa said. “Also, it is a sort of thing that the more you practice, the more you play, the more intuitive things become.”
Checa practices his chess skills is with a computer. He says that at this point, computers are better at chess than humans are and there is a lot to be learned from playing with them.
However, humans and computers aren’t the same.
“Well, humans are much more fallible in the sense that they’re going to make mistakes,” Checa said. “It’s almost inevitable.”
These different variables make for a more complex game, which is one of the many things Checa appreciates about chess.
“I think the competitive nature is definitely one of the most interesting parts of the game,” Checa said. “I think there’s also the kind of cerebral analytical part of it that makes it more interesting than more common pastimes.”
The intuitive aspect of chess, however, did not come to Checa naturally but is something he developed over time. Though he does not keep a consistent plan for his practicing, Checa will sometimes spend up to five or six hours a day on chess.
“For me, it’s always been something I’ve enjoyed so I just kind of do it as I please,” Checa said. “Not, as a chore with the schedule or anything.”
Clearly, his appreciation for the game has brought him far as he will be facing the best in the country early next month.
“I’m just very enthusiastic about this tournament,” Checa said. “It’s always been a real pleasure to play there and I’m looking forward to going again.”