The John Muir Chess Club won first place in all three sections (Under 600, Under 1000 and Under 1400) at the 2021 Southern California State Championship, held online on March 27 and 28.
Arthur Tovmasyan earned an undefeated first place win in the the Under 1000 section and Hayk Sardaryan won first place in the Under 1400 section.
Members of the Under 600 first place team were sixth-graders David Hadi, David Zargari, Robert Stambulyan, Calvin Godfrey and Jyothiradityu Uyyuru.
Seventh-graders Nicolas Niazi, Rithun Gopalakrishnan, Bhavye Chauhan, Seda Sevachyan and Alexander Kadkhodazadeh and eighth-grader Tovmasyan rounded out the winning Under 1000 team.
Muir’s champion Under 1400 team included seventh-graders Sardaryan and Mark Torosyan, along with sixth-grader Levon Sirakanian.
The Muir Chess Club and team are coached by “beloved” Special Education Instructional Assistant Kevin Bulone, said Principal Dr. Greg Miller.
“We are extremely proud of our chess team and all of the time and effort that Coach Kevin Bulone and the students have put in,” commented Miller. “The students are great kids who are very committed to chess and to the team and always represent Muir well.”
“Under the leadership of Coach Kevin, the team has grown and gotten stronger,” Miller said. “His dedication has really motivated the students to reach new levels.”
The Muir Chess Club teams competed against 15 teams made up of more than 300 other middle school students for the state championship. The competition is divided into three sections of Under 600, Under 1000 and Under 1400. Students are placed by grade or chess rating into one of the sections. They can get a rating by participating in a United States Chess Federation rated tournament.
“Since this event was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the organizers felt that an effort should be made to schedule the event online for 2021 via Zoom and chess.com,” explained Bulone. “This event does give many chess players [a chance] to compete in their first major event. Normally this event draws over 600 chess players and is held in Valencia but due to the pandemic this event was held online.”
Before the pandemic, the Muir Chess Club would meet Fridays after school in the lunch shelter. Currently, the Muir Chess Club meets online Friday afternoons via a Google Classroom Zoom link. Muir uses the online chess program, Chesskid, for play and practice.
“Being part of the teaching staff at Muir for over four years and coaching the Muir Chess Club for over nine years I have seen this chess club grow stronger and stronger each year or as we like to say here at Muir our team continues to be ‘Better Than Ever’ each year,” commented Bulone.
“Usually there are more students in the club than students that want to compete so not all of them participate on the team,” he also said. “Some students want to improve their chess playing abilities, get more confidence, before competing in a competition of this nature, while others want to be given the opportunity to compete and represent the school in a major competition. I would have to say that about 75% of our students in the club compete in at least one competition during the school year.”
“This was probably one of the roughest years for the club as we had to do everything virtual but with the use of Google Classroom and Zoom links, we made it happen. We would have weekly challenges, tactical puzzle contest and various weekly endgame workouts. More than half of the club did compete in some of the online chess tournaments that were held on Chesskid as well as chess.com.”
Some of the players continue to compete in other chess tournaments, Bulone said. “There does happen to be a national event coming up in May and another national event in Las Vegas. Both events have sparked the interests of the students and their families.”
“I have coached chess at many other schools prior to coaching at Muir and I have to say that coaching chess at Muir always inspires me to want to make a better team each year and each year we seem to do better than ever,” added Bulone. “The inspiration derives from the support of our Principal, Dr. Greg Miller, as well as English teacher Jessica Wertlieb, both of which came out to Valencia one year to see our teams collect first place team awards. The students and I were so happy and pleased that he was able to attend that year.”
“Our staff are very supportive in offering their classrooms and continually congratulating the efforts of our students. Many of the other teaching staff here at Muir like English teacher Jessica Wertlieb, science teacher Eric Blinder and social studies teacher Robert Lee offers their classroom to us for in person practice and Nancy Kim in the media center always makes sure there is a computer room available to us for online practice as well.”
“So, I have to say that the success of our Muir Chess Club does not only come from me and the students but the entire John Muir Middle School family,” Bulone also said.