Coach Bruce Haffner took 25 Lincolnville Central School students to compete in the K/6 State Chess Championships in Orono March 10 and the results were once again fantastic!

In the newly created K/1 division, LCS entered six girls and three boys. The team was so big the organizers (Maine Association of Chess Coaches: see their full tournament report at chessmaine.net) required that it be split in two.

"There was never a question about the outcome," Coach Haffner said.  Lincolnville Center won with nine wins and Lincolnville Beach had eight wins; third place was distant with five wins.

LCS took the top four individual spots and eight of the top nine. Jack O’Brien was overall champion; Ray Beach, second; Clara Harbaugh (pre-K), third; Anneka Egeland, fourth; Oren Hurley, sixth; Maggie Harbaugh, seventh; Lily Fishman, eighth; Pearl Yetman, ninth; and Devon Skrivanich, 11th.

"Everyone knew the 2/3 division would be an upward battle," Haffner said. "The group of third-graders who leapt into the chess scene and won State last March aged up into the 4/6 section. The only returning members from last year’s 2/3 team were Zach Egeland and Noah Seliger."

The second-graders, new to this division, actually scored more wins than the third-graders and helped carry the team to a second-place finish, edging out Hope by one half of a point. Zach Egeland and Andy O’Brien tied for third, and Gabe Lippman, Grant Morrison and Zev Whitcomb tied for seventh. Also contributing were Py Nakjaroen, Noah Seliger and Willa Yetman.

"The most amazing finish came in the 4/6 section, which no one thought LCS could win," the coach said. "They had only one fifth-grader, Rose Fishman, and the rest of the team was in the youngest bracket of this group and likely the least experienced in the state. Many of the others entered have played competitive chess since kindergarten or first grade. The LCS team came in with barely a year and half of chess instruction under their belts!"

It was uphill the whole day, Haffner said. After three games, and with only one left to go, LCS was in third place with 10 wins: second place had 11 wins, and the leader had 12 victories. Team Captain Ward Morrison and Coach Haffner focused the team and impressed upon everyone how important it is to win their last game to make all of the hard work pay off.

The first to finish the last game was Bryson Hise with a win. Next, Rose Fishman lost and Ward Morrison got a draw. Then Sophia Skrivanich drew and shortly after that Maggie O’Brien finished with a loss.

"The team’s chances were evaporating," Haffner said, "but other players were still slugging it out in the tournament room. Liana Talty burst out with a huge smile on her face and spirits were lifted. Next was Thomas Pickford with another win. The only one left in the room was Awnin Oxley, who had won three games in a row and was playing in the top position. If she won she would be the top finisher in the 4/6 division and the overall champion.

"She was on the far side of the room and those with keen vision and the ability to analyze the position sensed she was on the verge of victory," Haffner said. "The question at that point was would it be enough to take LCS over the top? Awnin took her time and didn’t dare touch a piece until she was certain of her move. The rules are strict: 'If you touch it, you have to move it,' and she didn’t want to make a mistake. Finally, her opponent slumped while Awnin was quickly resetting the board. As she turned toward the exit, all knew — she was beaming!"

But was it enough? Teams get to count the wins of their top five finishers. These proved to be Awnin, with four wins (of four possible), finishing in first place out of 60 participants; Liana Talty and Thomas Pickford, who tied for fifth overall, with three wins each; Bryson Hise, who tied for 18th with 2.5 wins; and Maggie O’Brien with 1.5 wins. LCS had picked up four of a possible five wins in the last round, giving the team a total of 14.

The tournament director whipped up the crowd waiting for the results by telling everyone it was the closest finish in the history of the State Championship: only one-half of a win separated first place from third. "When they announced Brewer and Cape Elizabeth had tied for second, it was clear Lincolnville had won," Haffner said.

Lincolnville Central School Principal Paul Russo said, "Lincolnville seems to have found a recipe for chess success: Involve parents because it takes two to play; start young because K/1 kids don’t have many distractions and can learn anything very quickly; and, emphasize the benefits of chess to everyone."

Chess teaches logic (and hence math), problem solving, patience, how to get along with others, and creativity. "It is also critical to have a dedicated, caring coach like Mr. Bruce and a supportive school community," Russo said. "With the support LCS kids get at home and school, they know they can learn anything they want to and can accomplish whatever they set their minds to!"