Youth wins national chess tournament

May 18, 2010

By Breanne Faehnrich

Nathan Lee can’t explain exactly what drew him to the chess board his dad brought home when he was in first grade, but he learned the game eagerly and won his first state championship the following year.

On April 13, Nathan competed with 1,000 other players to win the United Chess Federation’s Junior High Nationals, his first national title. The 13-year-old Issaquah Middle School student said his last match was the toughest.

“There was a lot of pressure, but I just tried to ignore it and play like a normal chess game,” he said.

Nathan’s father, Hock Lee, said it wasn’t long after he taught his son the game that Nathan started beating him. Since Nathan’s school didn’t have a chess club, his dad began taking him to a chess club in Seattle, where he still plays.

After a while, though, progress didn’t come as quickly, Nathan said. He realized playing against people at his own skill level didn’t improve his own game, and he learned to take on more challenging opponents to keep growing as a player.

Nathan Lee (left), an Issaquah Middle School eighth-grader, won the individual United States Chess Federation’s 2010 National K-8 Championship in Minneapolis in April with a perfect 7-0 record. Contributed

Even though matches can be grueling — sometimes lasting up to six hours — Nathan said he’s still having fun. He likes that there’s no limit to what can be learned about chess, and his coach, a grandmaster, helps him find mistakes and develop strategies.

The young champ also plays piano in his school’s orchestra and takes kung fu lessons. He plans to take up tennis soon.

“He’s a very active boy,” his father said.

While he can’t say which of his many activities is his favorite, chess holds a special place, and Nathan aims to be a grandmaster one day.

“Chess is a strategic game,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how big or small you are. It’s a battle of minds.”

Brionna Friedrich is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at

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