Younger Evanston chess players have been able to continue playing organized chess during the pandemic through the efforts of Evanston Scholastic Chess. The non-profit serves chess players in kindergarten through eighth grades who either live in Evanston or attend an Evanston school.

The group’s final tournament of the school year, the Evanston Championships, was held in late March. The competition was organized into three grade-based divisions: K-3, 4-5, and 6-8.

The sixth through eighth grade championship was decided in a last-round matchup between the last two undefeated players. Sam Kemeny, an eighth grader at Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, played white in a tactical game, with opposite side (NN in chess terminology) castling and attacking chances for both players. The advantage went back and forth until the following position was reached:

Kemeny vs. NN, black to move

White is threatening 30Ne4 followed by 31Nf6+, which would lead to checkmate. Black’s best defense is to play 30…e4, and if white captures with his knight, sacrifice his rook for the knight. Instead, black played 29…Bg4? and white had a winning attack after 30Ne4. The game ended after 30…f6 31gxf6, Rxf6 32Nxf6, Qxf6 33Rxg6+, Qxg6 34Bxg6, Re7 35Qh4, Kf8 36Qh8 mate.

Franklin Godinho, a fourth grader at Roycemore School, ended up on top in the fourth-fifth grade championship. He began the last round in second place, a half point behind the leader, but scored a lengthy come-from-behind victory to win the championship. The game was close throughout until the players reached the following position, with both sides having a bishop and several pawns.

NN vs. Godinho, black to move

Black is a pawn ahead and his king is about to win a second pawn, seemingly on his way to victory. However, white can surprisingly hold the draw by playing 65Be1+!, sacrificing his pawn on f4 to save the pawn on h4. Since the white and black bishops are on opposite colors, black’s bishop can’t keep white’s king and bishop from blocking the advance of the black pawns. White instead played 65Be5 to save his f-pawn, but after 65…Kxh4 black was winning, since white’s king is too far away from black’s h-pawn to stop its advance. The game continued 66Kd4, Kg3 67Bf6, h4 68Bxh4, Kxh4. Black is a bishop and a pawn ahead and went on to win without further difficulty.

The K-third grade championship ended with a five-way tie for first place between Yusuf Bilgic of Walker School, Hudson Foreman and Nimish Vats of Orrington School, and Chiaravalle’s Declan Roth and Clara Drouillard. Yusuf gained his share of first by winning his first four games. His fourth round game reached the following critical position after an opening and middle game that was well played by both players:

NN vs. Bilgic, white to move

Black has a passed pawn on his kingside, but white’s active queen can coordinate with his king to stop its advance. After 30Qd2+, Kg6 31Qc2+ the game would be even. Instead, white tried to pressure black’s queenside, but the result was disastrous. After 30b4?, b6! white’s queen was trapped and about to be lost for a single pawn. White chose to resign rather than playing on in a hopeless position.

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained a US Chess Federation Expert rating for over-the-board play and was awarded the Senior International Master title by the International Correspondence Chess Federation. Keith now puts most of his chess energy into helping young chess players in Evanston learn to enjoy chess and improve their play. Please email Keith at if you have any chess questions.

Keith Holzmueller

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...