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Aspen Elementary New Chess Champs

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Los Alamos’ Aspen Elementary school took first place at the U.S. Federation chess championship in Dallas on Friday.

“We were about the fourth best team on paper,” head coach David Poston said in a telephone interview. “We were in fifth place going into the last round. But we knew we had a shot, so it was a big upset and a surprise. (The kids) were dancing around.”

The team won in the kindergarten through sixth grade category in a “blitz,” or fast-paced game.

Judges took the top scores from each school to determine the winners. Aspen’s Donald Poston, 12; Andrew Pop-Simil, 11; and Alex Ionkov, 11, scored the highest. The kids competed against 13 teams from across the country.

“They all play in the same section of 100 kids,” Poston said.

The New Orleans team won second place; Brooklyn took third.

Parents encourage the students to learn chess because studies show it boosts learning, said Poston, who has volunteered to coach the team for four years.

“The kids really enjoy it,” he said. “The parents obviously want their kids to play chess because it teaches them life skills like math.”

“They’re getting a huge trophy,” he continued, adding the five-foot-tall award crowned with a chess piece will be placed inside a school hallway bookcase.

The team drove out to Texas from New Mexico in a van to compete on Wednesday. They celebrated with dessert.

“We went out for ice cream,” Poston said.

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