Chess champs are getting younger and younger

Grandmasters, fresh-faced rising stars hosted at this weekend’s Canadian Open

Sooke resident Rowan James

When Paul Leblanc started playing chess four decades ago, the players were all adults, the youngest being university-aged students.

These days, it’s quite a different scene.

“It’s remarkable,” said Leblanc. “When I go down to the chess club, there’s a kid in Grade 6 who beats me every time. There’s a kid in Grade 1 who is going to be beating me in about another year.”

That Sooke youngster is Rowan James. He’ll get back to Victoria on time to play his opening match in the Canadian Open Chess Championship on Sunday (July 8), after competing in a series of tournaments in Chicago, Toronto and Vancouver.

“He’s on the professional circuit and he’s six years old,” said Leblanc, who attributes the trend to the introduction of chess championships in grade schools about 15 years ago.

Leblanc is one of the organizers of the upcoming Open. The nine-game, six-day event is an international tournament – a step above the recent Grand Pacific Open, which generally attracts more local talent.

“We had to go to Toronto last year and put a bid in for it,” Leblanc said. “It hadn’t been held in British Columbia since 1999, so we thought it was time for the province to put in a bid.”

Five years’ organizing the Grand Pacific tournament gave the local group the reputation they needed to secure the bid.

There are 150 players registered, including grandmasters from Israel, the United States and possibly one from Toronto. There are $15,000 in prizes, with $2,000 going to the champion and lesser amounts to players in different ranks.

Nobody is eliminated during a chess championship. Every registrant plays nine games, but winners are matched with other winners as the games progress.

The public is invited to watch the tournament in person for free, or live on the Internet.

It takes place at the Hotel Grand Pacific on Belleville Street from July 8 to 13.

For information about tournament times, visit

Did you know?

• Alberta’s chess champion, Richard Wang from Edmonton, is only 13.

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