Jonathan Schwab - Mail Staff Writer
A 6-year-old Salida boy who learned to play chess before he could read, challenges adults at the game - and wins. Christopher Graves, who began playing when he was 3 years old, challenges and defeats adults at Bongo Billy's Salida Café since February. A Longfellow Elementary School first-grader, Graves practices almost daily - often with his older brother Leeland, a sophomore at Salida High School, his sister, Julaine, who's in middle school and his parents. He plans to compete in a national chess tournament at the Scout Hut in Riverside Park Sept. 29, the first of its kind in Salida. Heart of the Rockies Chess Club will host the tournament. Club members practice at Bongo Billy's from 6-8:30 p.m. Thursdays and from 1:30-5:30 p.m., Sundays. The Graves family moved to Salida from Trinidad last year.
Graves' father, Rusty, said, "The only time he aggravates me is when he's goofing off and he beats me anyway. He makes it look easy." His mother, Alma, said it was good to get Christopher to Bongo Billy's because "he's beating everybody in the family." Christopher said he likes chess because it allows him to use his mind and it's "not a rushing game." He said there is no chess board at his school, but he plays "a lot" on the computer and with others outside school. His father read about the chess gatherings at Bongo Billy's and decided to take Christopher along to see what it was like and give his son a chance to practice. He said members of the group "didn't discourage a 6-year-old from playing with them, but they weren't enthused." After Christopher showed what he could do, two club members - Franz Wawrczyniak and Howard Grant, Jr., club founder, decided to give him free lessons. "He knew the moves and had some really keen insights, but he didn't understand some of the finer points of chess," Wawrczyniak said. "Being a 6-year-old, he has some interest in other things." He said teaching Graves "was fun and challenging," but his pupil is patient and willing to learn "I was very impressed with him," Wawrczyniak said. "There is a lot of intuitive, natural ability." Wawrczyniak has played chess since he was in eighth grade. He said he wouldn't be surprised if Graves becomes a well known name in chess when he gets older. "It's a matter of needing more maturity." Warren Kurtze of Cotopaxi, chess club president, said in an e-mail, "What is neat for me is our Heart of the Rockies Chess Club has reached out in service to the public via chess for individuals of all ages. "In so doing, our club has helped to mentor and identify this young chess player. "We all know the path of life changes as we grow, but there is potential Salida will look back and say this chess master came from our community. "How neat this will be."