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Approximately 20 elementary and middle school students in Medford spent their Saturday morning in quiet concentration.

They were competing in nonprofit organization Chess for Success' regional tournament at Lone Pine Elementary School.

"It always amazes me that so many young kids are interested in this," parent Mark Sievert said. "It's a very sedentary activity, which doesn't always go very well with childhood."

Mark Sievert and his wife, Sarah, were on the sidelines to support their three children in the tournament, Rachael, 13, Koen, 12, and Bjorn, 9, all representing Madrone Trail Charter School.

Sarah Sievert attributed much of that success to the charter school's chess coach, Ritch Duron, who has put the team together in the past year. She said his inviting nature paired with how seriously he takes the game resonates with the Madrone Trail students.

"He exudes passion about the sport," Sarah Sievert said. "Which is odd because, you know, how do you get kids excited about chess?"

Duron also serves as the local president of the United States Chess Federation, an official chess club serving all ages. Duron hosts the USCF chess club at 6:30 p.m. Mondays at his office, Diamond Medical Maintenance Inc., 902 Chevy Way, Suite 101, Medford.

Duron's daughter Averie, in sixth-grade, competed with her team. After the third of five rounds she remained undefeated.

"I want to go to the state championships," Averie Duron said.

Surprisingly, it's not games with her father that have helped her develop her chess skills.

"I practice on my iPhone a lot," she said.

In addition to first-place trophies, the winning individual and school teams were playing for the opportunity to compete at the Chess for Success State Championships March 13 and 14 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

The local tournament was structured on regulations outlined by Chess for Success. The Portland-based nonprofit organization got its start 22 years ago in Portland-area public schools, and has expanded with curricula and after-school programs in 17 low-income schools, primarily in Monmouth and the Portland area.

The annual state tournament has been held since 1967, when it was organized by OMSI and The Oregonian newspaper. Chess for Success took over the tournament in 1998.

"One of our founders was involved in it (the tournament)," Chess for Success executive director Julie Young said. "This is the 48th year of the tournament."

The local tournament accommodated children from a variety of skill levels.

Madrone Trail second-grader Bodhi Kreutzer, 8, has been playing chess since he was 2. His mother, Kim Kreutzer, recalled that chess was the only game she'd allow him to play on the computer, expecting him to grow bored and find another activity.

"I thought it was my solution to say 'no,' " Kim Kreutzer recalled.

But at the age of 3 he saw a chess set at a yard sale, and asked his parents for it.

"Apparently he did know how to play chess," Kreutzer said, adding that it was her son who taught her the game at age 3. "It was weird for me having this little kid teaching me this complicated game."

Kreutzer's 12-year-old daughter, Bella, a sixth-grader at Madrone Trail, also participated in the tournament. Kreutzer said she struggles against others in her age bracket.

"My daughter is just along for the ride," she said while admiring Bella's bravery in the face of something she doesn't excel at. "It's really welcoming to people of all skill levels."

Eleven-year-old Madrone Trail fifth-grader Finnian Sullivan finished first in his grade.

"I've been playing since I was 6, but haven't beat my dad yet," Sullivan said.

This is the first year for Lone Pine chess coach Peter Grant, but he noted that the best chess players started playing in their formative years.

"It's like musical prodigies," Grant said. "You've got to get them when they're young."

Only Lone Pine and Madrone Trail had teams participating at the tournament. Hoover had a team last year, but no volunteer coach was around this year to organize a team. Duron's goal is to add new players at all ages and all skill levels.

"Now there's just two schools," Duron said. "We're trying to build that up."

The limited number of teams also meant that kids had to play tournament rounds against their teammates and friends.

Koen Sievert had just won a match against his friend and teammate Max Thomas.

"He was harder than the other players," Koen Sievert said as he approached his mother with mixed feelings about beating his friend.

"They'll run around the gym and they'll be fine," Sarah Sievert said.

For information about joining the USCF at any age or skill level, or about volunteering to coach a school chess club, call Duron at 541-245-3876.

Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at nmorgan@mailtribune.com.

Finley Thomas, Madrone Trail Public Charter School second-grader, competes in a chess tournament at Lone Pine Elementary School in Medford on Saturday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Rachael Sievert, 13, Madrone Trail Public Charter School, contemplates a move during a chess tournament at Lone Pine Elementary in Medford on Saturday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch