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Neighborhood news

Chess champion at 10

By Helen Anne Travis
Published May 25, 2007

[Times photo: Melissa Lyttle]
Logan McElvenny, 10, left, is the chess champion for the state in his age group. He relishes a good move although he's better than most of the kids he plays against at Center Place on Wednesdays.

The champion arrives 30 minutes late. He's sweaty and out of breath from a school skate party. Two dozen elementary school students look up from their chess boards.

Logan McElvenny doesn't apologize for his late arrival to the weekly chess tournament at Center Place in Brandon. He's 10 years old. He placed first in the state in the K-5 under 750 rating division at the 2007 Florida Scholastic Chess Championship in Miami in March. He likes the games where he wins trophies. Doing well on this night would only merit him a ribbon.

Shreya Chidarala, an 11-year-old who beat Logan once, plays him first.

Logan uses his signature Ruy Lopez opening. While he waits for Shreya to make her move, Logan talks to the other kids who have gathered around to watch him play. He hums to himself. He loses track of when it's his turn. He barely glances at the board before moving his piece. He wins twice.

He reminds Shreya that he's been featured in the newspaper more times than she has.

Around them chess pieces clack on the boards and an occasional shriek of "check" rings out. These children are fearless about striking conversations with adults. They're smart, inquisitive, white, Asian, Indian, blond, dark-eyed.

Logan is the only redhead in the room, except for his sister Annie, 6. She waits with their mother and the other chess moms. She doesn't play chess, but wants to "horseback ride" instead. She's his biggest fan and, as long as she stays out of his bedroom, she doesn't annoy him. When he's nice, she helps him arrange his 11 chess trophies. When he's mean, she cries in her bedroom. She and their mom painted their toenails by the hotel pool while they waited for him to finish his games in Miami.

A fast learner

Logan, of Valrico, learned to play chess two years ago. His father, John, had saved the chess board that he learned to play on as a child. He taught Logan to play on this board, just like his father had taught him more than three decades ago.

Logan was bad at checkers and wary when he saw that chess used a similar game board. He thought a checkmate was something you could draw.

In two weeks, Logan was able to beat his father.

Now he sneaks out of bed at night to play chess by himself and work on his strategy.

"I can't shut it off, " he says.

Logan's mom, Kathy, doesn't know what to say when she catches her son playing chess by himself hours after his bedtime. A part of her wants to tell him to go back to sleep.

But she usually gives him two minutes to wrap it up. He might be in the middle of learning a strategy or teaching himself a move.

If it was anything else - video games or playing with Legos - she wouldn't give him the extra time.

But it's chess, a hobby Kathy sees as enriching. It's something she knows he can take with him as he grows older. He can play it in college, he can play it in the nursing home.

Teaching mom

Kathy always assumed she wasn't smart enough to learn how to play chess, but Logan taught her the ropes. He goes easy on her, tells her to take back a move if it will let him win too easily. Sometimes he avoids check mating her.

He doesn't have any lucky chess rituals, but he says that if he drinks orange soda before a chess game he will be too high-strung to win.

At the skate party before the community tournament, Logan indulged in some soda. His last game with Shreya ends in a stalemate.

"I tied him, " Shreya calls out to the room. She smiles and claps her hand.

Parents appear in the doorway. It's almost time to go.

In June, he's moving to South Carolina, Logan tells the children around him. He'll be the state champion there, too, he says.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at 661-2439 or

[Last modified May 24, 2007, 07:41:18]

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