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Vermont's youngest champion breaks down the state's first-ever Annual Youth Chess Day

An illustration shows chess pieces
The first Annual Youth Chess Day takes place April 1, 2023 at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center.

This Saturday marks the first-ever Annual Youth Chess Day in Vermont.

Grade-school students from around the state will participate in learning sessions and — for the experienced — a recreational tournament

The free event is part of a series of initiatives organized by Sen. Bernie Sanders to create civic engagement and community for young Vermonters.

So, who better to break down the event than 13-year-old Norwich resident Alexander Collins? He’s the Green Mountain state’s youngest ever chess champion after taking home top honors at the Vermont Open tournament in November.

Vermont Public's Jenn Jarecki caught up with Alexander after school this week. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jenn Jarecki: First, before we get to Youth Chess Day — congratulations on your big tournament win last November. Can you set the scene for us with that last match and describe what was going through your head as you realized you were taking home the victory?

A boy smiles for the camera.
Alexander Collins

Alexander Collins: I was amazed and surprised because I didn't think I was going do very well at all. I had taken a big break from playing tournament chess, or much chess at all before the tournament. My last tournament was in July before that, so I was not expecting to do very well. I just wanted to play how I always play.

How did you get into chess?

When I was in first grade, my dad bought a chess board for me and the rest of my family and I just really liked it. It's just very fun.

So, this youth chess event is being framed as a way to connect with people in-person instead of through your smartphone. Can you tell us about the type of community that chess players have with one another, whether that's in the tournament scene and chess clubs or elsewhere?

It's always like fun to meet new people at tournaments or at chess clubs, which is something that you just can't do over online chess. There are many people that I meet that I then see again at other chess tournaments, even though I live nowhere near them. I have great friendships with many people.

Well, I do hear you are quite the chess traveler. Your dad tells me that you've played tournaments in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, even Florida. What sets the Vermont chess scene apart from other places you've played.

The Vermont tournaments, there's only a few ones each year, like the annual scholastic and non scholastic championships. And those two are maybe my two favorite tournaments to ever go to because they're sort of local with really great people. Just very fun tournaments.

How does it feel to be ranked among, and win against, people that are three, four, even five times your age?

I've met many people, at tournaments, of all ages. And it's not really the age that makes them better. It's very fun for me to play against people who are stronger than me, because then it's more of a challenge — more of a victory if I win. And a good learning opportunity either way.

Well, that seems like a good segue to the next question I had for you, Alexander. Which is, how do you handle the competitive aspects of the game, and try to continue having fun even at those really high levels?

I've always been somebody who like competitions and competitive things. If I win, then it's like, "yay." But if I lose, then it's a good way to learn and get better and then maybe not make the same mistake in another game.

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