The Conway High School chess team took third place against 16 other teams in the Arkansas State Chess Championship at Little Rock Central High School on Saturday.
The Conway team qualified for the state championship after winning the regional tournament in Eureka Springs last month.
“The players played individually, but the top four players contributed to the overall team result,” said Darcy Caplan, CHS chess coach. “I had no other expectations from the regional tournament than gaining valuable gaming experience and having fun. What a blessing to be the first place winner.”
Against many teams with a legacy of great chess teams and coaches, the CHS team heard rumors that they were seen as one of the tournament’s top contenders.
“We were just hoping to do our best and see what happens,” Caplan said.
The team went into the finals fourth and Caplan said they could only finish third if every player on the Conway team did well against their opponents.
“We had a player who lost his early rounds who was struggling to process the losses, which was very uncharacteristic of him,” Caplan said, “but he was the winner of the last game in the last round, that secured ours Trophy. It was incredibly stressful waiting out the last long game, but we made it.”
The team agreed that this player was Conway’s MVP of the tournament.
“It was heartwarming to see such support and camaraderie,” Caplan said. “They are good children. They are happy with their third place, but essentially their success has inspired them to do even better next year.”
The team has endured difficult years over the past year and a half after playing online virtual chess due to the cancellation of classes due to COVID-19, which in addition to the freezing weather severely curtailed their training.
“We were all very excited to even be able to play a live tournament,” said Caplan. “Many of the team players come to our zero lesson, where they can play about 40 minutes before school starts every day. However, we have many players who are so involved in the myriad of activities our high school offers that they don’t get to play much together at all.”
After the successful season, the CHS Chess Team is already looking forward to the next season.
“I’m excited to see our players continue to develop their skills and can’t wait for the impressive freshmen to join our high school team as sophomores next year,” said Caplan. “One newcomer, Alex Windsor, has played with our team before and was instrumental in securing our regional tournament win this year. We also hope to go to more tournaments to get a bit more attention and experience.”
The team also plans to host its second annual community chess clinic on April 23 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Faulkner County Library, where chess teams from across the district can play against anyone interested in learning chess . The event is public.
“When I took on this coaching position three years ago at the behest of my chess-playing son, I could hardly have imagined that I would find the role so fulfilling,” said Caplan. “I’m a grateful member of our team who sees some great kids really shine.”