by Paula M. Riley

Andrew Ng

Although the Olympics don’t officially begin until Friday, 12 local champions arrive in Chestnut Hill this Thursday. They come armed with great patience, strong minds and amazing strategic skills.

These champions are participating in the 2012 Greater Philadelphia Junior Invitational Chess Tournament from Thursday, July 26, through Sunday, July 29, at Chestnut Hill College. Nationally recognized junior chess players – all under 19 – will play in a four-day, round-robin competition to claim the championship as well as the prize money, totaling $1,500.

“We are thrilled that Chestnut Hill is hosting this tournament,” says co-organizer and former Chestnut Hill Business Association president Greg Welsh. “We hope chess lovers, as well as those new to the game, come to watch the competition. Kids are especially welcome to observe these champions and learn from them.”

The Junior Invitational provides rising players with a chance to participate in a round robin-style tournament in which each competitor plays in turn against every other. Past winners of the Junior Invitational, such as Andrew Ng, have leveraged the Invitational experience to win the U.S. Cadet (under 14) Championship. To date, Ng has accumulated more than $100,000 in chess winnings and scholarships.

Josh Hernandez-Camen, a Masterman School seventh grader, started playing chess with his Mom on their kitchen table. Today he is a competitor and, like the Olympians, has a pre-tournament plan.

“My coach told me to eat one hour and 30 minutes before the match, so when I’m playing I will be full and will be able to think clearly,” he explained.

He said he loves how strategic the game is and that it is great fun and also helps him in school.

“I think chess really helps your thinking process and helps you to think-out-of-the-box,” he said

Last year was Chestnut Hill’s first as host, and the audience came because it loved chess, but many came for a chance to watch young chess legends, such as Chestnut Hill’s own Will Fisher, a member of the 2012 All-American Team, 2011 U.S. Chess League Rookie of the Year and participant in the 2012 U.S. Junior Championship.

“We hope that this Invitational will entice other members of this community to come out and play chess,” said Tolis Vardakis, co-organizer and former president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

He said he hoped that the Invitational turns into something bigger each year.

“I like playing in the Invitational because you are playing against really strong players,” said Nate Kolo, of Mt. Laurel, N.J., the 2010 New Jersey Chess Champion for ninth grade and the top South Jersey Player in the 2011 Rentschler High School Tournament.

This year’s Invitational promises to be very exciting as Kolo and Ng, winner of five National Scholastic Championships and the Under 18 North American Championship in 2011, will be joined by Kimberly Ding, a top rated player in the U.S. Girls Under 13 age group, as well as other competitors to fight for the championship.

Vardakis and Welsh view the tournament as another reason for visitors to come to Chestnut Hill, but they also recognize its opportunity to get kids excited about the game.

“Chess helps kids improve their concentration, logic and focus,” Welsh said. “It is a great way for children to develop analytical and decision-making skills as well.”

They hope that chess enthusiasts, regardless of their age or skill, come to learn more about the game. Sponsored by Bowman Properties, Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District, Chestnut Hill College, Dan Heisman Chess Support Fund and the Chestnut Hill Grill the Invitational was previously held for many years on the Main Line. This is its second year in Chestnut Hill.

Free and open to the public, the tournament’s first round begins at 4 p.m. Thursday at Chestnut Hill College’s Fournier Hall for pair assignments and review of tournament rules. The first match will immediately follow, and for the rest of the tournament two matches will take place each day, one beginning at 11 a.m. and other at 5 p.m.

Contestants, who had to qualify to participate, represent the best U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) players in the Delaware Valley. The winner will take home a cash prize and his or her name will be engraved on the Heisman-Shahade Trophy.

“There are so many studies showing that chess helps a child’s critical thinking, organizational and analytical skills,” Welsh said. “But what studies don’t show is the intensity and the joy of watching young people playing a very challenging board game rather than staring at a screen.”

For more information on the 2012 Greater Philadelphia Junior Invitational Chess Tournament contact Joshua Milton Anderson at 484-948-5692, by email at or on

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