By Megan Kawasaki
Cheston Gunawan â12 focuses his eyes on the white chess pieces laid out in front of him during another hectic day at Chess Club. Surrounded by the bickering and chatter of other students, Gunawan remains silent as he searches for the right strategy to best his opponent. His hands moves swiftly as he pushes his pawn forward and tapped the blue button of the game timer next to him. His collection of captured black pieces piled up higher next to him, as pressure mounts on his opponent to come up with a plan for victory, and fast.
Unfortunately for him, Gunawan had already thought of a winning strategy. In a matter of minutes, he defeated his opponent, who could do nothing but sputter in shock and outrage.
What was extraordinary about this chess match was that Gunawan bested two classmates simultaneously in minutes. After years of practice, the difficulties of overcoming two opponents at once seemed to be no problem for Gunawan.
Gunawan first began playing chess at the age of four after being introduced to the game by his father. At the time, however, he found the game uninteresting. His appreciation for chess would not arise until later.
“When I first learned it, I was really bored and quit instantaneously,” Gunawan said.
Gunawanâs interest was piqued as he grew older. He attended the Chandler School, a private elementary school in Pasadena, and joined the chess club in fourth grade. Gunawan immediately became hooked and discovered a true enjoyment for the game.
Due to the competitiveness of this particular club, he participated in matches against other schools and practiced with the coach, who stopped by once a week to help train club members.
Soon, Gunawan started taking lessons after school, which helped him sharpen his mental skills and furthered his appreciation for chess. After a few years, he began to participate in tournaments.
As an avid player, he now takes part in many tournaments and has played in 151 of them overall. He takes part in grade-level national tournaments against experienced players as well as for-prize tournaments.
“I like the silent competition although that would not sound appealing to most,” Gunawan said. “I like playing the six-hour chess games in one sitting. Iâm not really sure why I like it, but it really helped me to develop patience.”
He has won many of the competitions he has entered, winning prizes ranging from trophies and money to chess accessories.
“I normally compete around two to three times a month, but most are small tournaments,” Gunawan said. “Normally there is only one big tournament each month.”
The majority of the tournaments he currently plays are for money and are often in Los Angeles. However, he has gone abroad for some tournaments.
“I have gone to Argentina and Singapore representing the United States to play in chess tournaments,” he said.
People who compete in chess tournaments have designated ratings, which increase in accordance with a playerâs skill level. Currently, Gunawan is rated 1978 out of a possible 2800. The rating increases or decreases based on whether one wins or loses a match. As oneâs rating becomes higher, however, it becomes harder and harder to gain points.
Gunawan is content with his current rating. He finds the game to be more than just a means of competition.
“Since chess relaxes me, it is a good break for me from school. I couldnât think of a better way to use my time,” Gunawan said.
The game has also helped him form new friendships with competitors from the United States to Japan, who are as young as 6 and as old as 70.
“I play chess still because I love seeing my chess friends, whom I probably wouldnât have met otherwise,” Gunawan said. “For that, Iâm really grateful.”
Even after years of playing chess, the hours of intensive practice, and the stress of heavy competition, Gunawan does not tire of the game.
“I consider chess to be a passion and a relaxing activity,” Gunawan said. “Without it, Iâm not really sure what I would have done for the past six years.”