There were chessboards as far as the eye could see. That's how one parent described the national chess championship where a Philadelphia school took home the sport's top honor.
Julia R. Masterman's middle school team won the national middle school championship title this past weekend. The "magnificent" seven champions Alex Wlezien, Angel Hernandez-Came, Srisa Changolkar, Nalin Khanna, Shira Moolten, Torin Kuehnle and Alejandro Budejen-Jerez traveled to Nashville, Tenn. to compete for their age group's most prestigious chess distinction.
With seven rounds of chess played over the course of three days, the tournament proved grueling. Single games can last anywhere from three to five hours, according to Shira's mother Sharon Moolten.
But, the Masterman "magnificent" seven were equipped to take on the challenge. The students practiced together once a week after school under coaches Stephen Shutt and International Master Greg Shahade. Shahade is studying to become a Grand Master, according to Moolten, which is the chess world's highest title.
In addition, Moolten noted the middle schoolers studied tactics on their own time and have experience playing against adults. What made this tournament different than others to daughter Shira was the amount of pressure she put on herself.
"I was playing to win," Shira said.
The Masterman champions' most challenging obstacle at the tournament was time management, according to Shira. During every game, each player is allotted two hours to make all moves. If a player runs out of time, that participant loses the game.
At the end of the seven rounds, the scores of the top four players on each team were totaled and awards were given. And the national middle school title was not the only accolade the "magnificent" seven came home with.
Alex Wlezien, 14, came in second place for individual competition in his age group. Wlezien's player rating is 2050. The top adult male player in the world has a rating of 2872.
Wlezien, born in England, dedicated himself to the game after his brother took up the sport.
"Every English school, public and private, has a chess club," his mother Cristina Adams said.
The Masterman middle schooler credits his chess success to his focus and drive. In the SuperNationals, Wlezien had to play the first, second and third seed and endured four four-hour games over the course of the weekend.
Teammates Nalin Khanna and Angel Hernandez-Camen also won individual awards, tying for 20th place in individual competition.
Julia R. Masterman's middle school team was the only Pennsylvania school to place in the top ten in its age group.