Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 10
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
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Searching for the Next Bobby Fisher? Try The Princeton Charter School

Ellen Gilbert

You’ll hear no arguments about the saying “success breeds success” from the Princeton Charter School (PCS) chess team.

Just a week after winning the New Jersey Elementary championship, team members went up against older competitors in the New Jersey Junior High School Championship tournament, and walked away with another first place finish to become the New Jersey Junior High School chess champions. Team members included Merrick Chang, Ashwin Dandamudi, Jonathan Yue, and Jay Yalamanchili, who also took home a trophy for placing eighth in singles.

At the New Jersey Elementary Championship chess tournament (K through sixth grades), which was sponsored by the New Jersey State Chess Federation, the winning PCS team was represented by Chang, Dandamudi and Yalamanchili, along with Jefferey Cai, Natalie Graham, and Saumya Malik. Dante Orlando and Jacqueline Buford also participated as the PCS team in the Primary (K-3) section. Team members at the tournament play as individuals; a team’s score is equal to the sum of the best individual scores on each team.

In a field of 89 players in the Elementary Section, only two individuals finished the tournament with perfect scores (five wins, zero losses), and both were sixth graders from PCS: Yalamanchili and Chang, who won upset victories in the final round to take the top prizes at the tournament. In the Elementary section Dandamudi won the trophy for third place in fifth grade, and Orlando won the trophy for third place in third grade.

“The kids did a wonderful job,” said chess instructor Miguel Iniguez, proudly. “It was more difficult for them the second week, but they did it again!”

Chess, which now begins in Kindergarten thanks to Mr. Iniguez’s encouragement, has been integral to the PCS curriculum since the school’s founding 14 years ago. “It teaches kids how to develop good strategies and thinking skills,” observed administrator and math teacher Norma Jean Byers.

“The success of the PCS chess team is a tribute to the strength of the chess program at PCS,” said parent Howard Chang. Mr. Iniguez teaches chess as part of the required curriculum and at the after-school extra-curricular PCS chess club. He also runs a monthly series of Saturday chess tournaments.

Mr. Iniguez, who works with students in other area schools as well as PCS, is candid about the Charter School’s success. “I have been watching their progress for a while now. It’s not that they are necessarily better than students in other schools,” he said candidly. “It’s that these kids work harder.”

State championships are nothing new to the PCS chess team. At last year’s state Elementary Championship, the PCS chess team won the first place trophy in the Elementary section (K through sixth grade) as well as the second place trophy in the Primary (K through third grade) section.

The school also sends teams to compete in the New Jersey K through 12th Grade Championship chess tournament each November, when students compete only with others in the same grade. In 2010, the PCS chess team won the trophy for first place in the fourth grade, as well as trophies for third place in both the fifth and sixth grades.

This year, though, was different. “It was the first time we decided to compete in two huge, consecutive tournaments,” said Mr. Iniguez. He isn’t satisfied yet; “I would love to bring the kids to the nationals. We would be fighting for first place.” In the meantime, their not-too-shabby performance has him feeling “so happy for them.”

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