Hawai‘i’s Youngest Chess Champion

Over Labor Day weekend, eighth grader Mark Chen ’25 became Hawai‘i’s youngest chess champion, advancing five rounds to capture the Hawaii State Open, which was conducted online because of COVID-19 restrictions. Winning the State chess tournament was one of the 12-year-old’s primary goals (at the time), although he didn’t think he would accomplish the feat so early. “I thought it was possible, but I wasn’t expecting this result,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

Mark took up chess as a 5-year-old, after his older brother, Michael ’21, learned how to play during a Punahou summer school club. “I thought, ‘that looks fun – I want to try it,’” Mark said. “Then I just got into it.”

In the beginning, the brothers studied with the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) Master Reynolds Takata, building a strong foundation. Over the last few years, both brothers’ skills have steadily improved through practice and coaching over Skype with Ukrainian International Grandmaster Andriy Vovk. Mark says he and Michael have a “healthy competition,” inside and outside of chess. “He is still the highest USCF-rated chess player at Punahou – I’m the close second. As for who’s better, it depends who you ask, but I don’t think he wants to play me anymore,” Mark joked.

With the Hawai‘i title now under his belt, Mark already has set his next goal – earning the National
Master chess title. At his precocious age, such a feat seems well within striking distance.

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