Brows were furrowed in concentration, heads hanging over their respective chessboards in an Ecker Hill Middle School lunchroom Saturday morning. It was the first United States Chess Federation-sanctioned tournament in Park City, and participants came from all around Northern Utah. Boards lined cafeteria tables, pitting high school students against retirees, 10-year-olds against collegiate chess club members. The event was open to the public, inviting all age groups and skill levels to join and pulling in dozens of players from along the Wasatch Front.
Pawn to D4. Knight to C3. Rook to F4. Of the thousands of possibilities on the board, each move was made for a reason as players analyzed their options. At this level, strategy matters, and no two games are ever the same.
For a second, it might be disorienting hearing about chess strategies from elementary school students. But that's chess.
"I like the first move," said Michael Zane Pilzer, a 9-year-old Weilenmann School of Discovery student who participated in Saturday's tournament. "It's the start of the game. But I like all the parts because you never know what's going to come next.
"I love the knight because when it's attacking another piece one-on-one, the other piece can't attack no matter what piece it is. Another thing I like about it is how it can jump over other pieces."
His brother, 10-year-old Maxwell Zane Pilzer, was quick to add to his point.
"When you put someone in check using the knight, they can't block it," he said.
Park City School District administrator Gina Mason, who also serves as a board member to the Utah Chess Association, helped to bring the event to Park City. Mason has been immersed in the chess world since the moment her son discovered a chessboard at four years old, the starting point of his amateur chess career that has brought him into national chess tournament circles.
"I run a lot of chess tournaments in Salt Lake City," Mason said. " My goal is to bring a K-12 Scholastic Tournament back for students in Park City.
"I want it to be a Scholastic Tournament, something for our kids in Park City. That's when you get a huge population of Utah players turning out."
Scholastic tournaments have age requirements, catering specifically to students starting in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Mason said future events would be open for all skill levels, and that she hopes to see chess culture work its way into Park City schools.
Paul Zane Pilzer, a fellow parent and father to Michael and Maxwell Zane Pilzer, said he lived and breathed chess through high school. Growing up in Brooklyn, Pilzer said he got the chance to face off against Bobby Fisher as a 6-year-old. He flew to Russia for a tournament. He even met his wife while she was playing a chess match.
So nightly chess matches were a standard home activity for years.
"We talk in chess," he said. "The kids knew chess at a young age because they grew up with chess. It's such an important game for life, and I honestly can't think of another activity that correlates higher for success than chess."
Pilzer sat down with his son Maxwell, discussing game strategy and using non-standard opening moves from an early game that day. As he explained it, his son used his age an advantage if opponents assume he is an inexperienced player as a way to throw other players off from the beginning.
"They don't understand what I'm doing exactly and they try something different," Maxwell said. "It confuses them."
Its moments like that Mason hopes to foster, strategy and critical thinking.
"This game teaches a lot," she said, "I think there's something to be gained by bringing it here."