"They just call me Sam across the board"
Sam Mason’s parents taught him how to play chess at the tender age of 4. According to his mother Gina, his dad stopped playing him when he was seven and with tolerance – only a mother can have – allows herself to get beat up every now and then by the 12-year-old phenomenon.
Without much competition at home, Mason travels to every tournament he can. The last was the Utah State Junior High Chess Championship held in South Jordan on March 15 and 16. Over 100 Utah 6th – 9th graders from around the state competed in the two-day event.
After completing all seven rounds of the tournament at the Paradigm High School – Mason was undefeated.
The 7th grader competing out of Ecker Hill Middle School was the only one with this success, earning him the title of overall State Jr. High Chess Champion – his sixth state championship title of his young career.
His next tournament will take place over spring break in Los Angeles, Calif. Mason travels out of state at least once per month to make sure he is competing against the best he can.
This youngster, who speaks of chess as a sport, claims he wouldn’t be the person he is today if it weren’t for the game that has become his passion.
“I think my skills in chess can take me lots of places in life,” Mason said. “The game sharpens your mind and I love it.”
In order to fit chess into the busy life of a student – like many winter athletes in the area – adjustments have been made to Mason’s school schedule.
Instead of threading the gates on the ski slopes, Mason studies chess 2-3 hours a day and studies weekly with International Chess Master John Bartholomew. He also has a training partner and over-the-board coach in Salt Lake City.
“I have a close group of friends I travel to tournaments with,” Mason said. “I play with a lot of people ranging in age and skill to keep me on my toes here in Utah.”
To study, Mason plays online games, practices chess tactics, learns new variations to chess openings, practices endgame positions and annotates his own chess games. This consists of entering his chess moves and matches into a computer and analyzing the data – a technique used by many top players around the world.
One thought is almost certain to enter the mind of any resilient competitor – no matter what the sport – the possibility of greatness.
“My biggest goal is to become an expert,” Mason said. “I am currently ranked 1,821 and would need to raise it to 2,000. I’d like to do that by the end of the year.”
Mason’s idol is Norwegian chess Grandmaster and former chess prodigy Sven Magnus Øen Carlsen – who is currently the No. 1 ranked player in the world. When the word “grandmaster” hits your ears, a 22-year-old is not the image that would normally come to mind.
Mason wants to beat the Grandmaster, who has a peak rating of 2,872, the highest in history.
“Becoming a grandmaster would be the coolest thing ever,” Mason said.
Mason has won six state championships – five here in Utah and one in Nevada. This past October he won the Utah State Amateur Chess Championship. He is the youngest player to earn this honor.
When asked if his skills in chess have earned him any nicknames, Mason calmly said, “they just call me Sam across the board.”
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