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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 9, 2002

Mililani Mauka boy a champion at chess

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Central O'ahu Writer

MILILANI — The search for the next Bobby Fischer may have ended with an 11-year-old boy in Mililani Mauka.

Robert Lau, 11, of Mililani Mauka recently placed second at the National Elementary School Chess Championships in Oregon. Lau says he enjoys playing against opponents on the Internet because "they don't know they're playing a kid."

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

For the second time in two months, fifth-grader Robert Lau has placed first or second in a national chess tournament.

Lau came in second place at the National Elementary School Chess Championships April 27-28 in Portland, Ore., in a field of 413 youngsters in the category for kindergarten through Grade 5. At the same event, Lau won first place in the "blitz event" with a perfect 12-0 in a field of 165 participants from Grades K-6.

Lau tied for first place in the Booster Section of the National Open in Las Vegas March 10 in a field of 217 people, most of them adults. He also placed third at the State Scholastic Chess Championships last month after winning the state title for his age group the previous year.

Chess organizers in Hawai'i hope Lau's latest feat will shine a spotlight on the growing popularity of the activity here. In the last 12 months, increased interest has prompted three new chess clubs to pop up at Ala Moana, Pearlridge and Windward Mall shopping centers, in addition to the Mililani club, which has been around since 1996.

"Chess has really grown here; it's really exciting," said Hawai'i Chess Federation president Randy Prothero, who is also vice president of the Mililani Chess Club, of which Lau is a member. "We've grown in the last year from one active chess club in Mililani to four around the island. But we're looking for players of all skill levels and volunteers to help coach."

Prothero said part of the latest surge in interest is the chess federation's push a year ago to encourage more chess playing in the schools. But what really helped is volunteer Colin Rayner, whose long-range goal is to get donated chess sets into every elementary and middle school in the state.

Chess clubs on O'ahu

• Ala Moana Center CenterStage on Mondays, 5 to 8 p.m.

• Pearlridge Center-Uptown, Tuesdays, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

• Windward Mall centerstage, Wednesdays, 6 to 9 p.m.

• Mililani Recreation Center 6, 95-1010 Konaku St. in Mililani Mauka, Thursdays 6 to 9 p.m.

• All four clubs offer beginners' lessons, with the Mililani club also offering lessons for advanced players. For more information about chess in Hawai'i, check the Internet, or contact Randy Prothero at gambit7@hawaii.rr.com or 384-5645.

"Colin initially called the shopping centers about the idea of playing chess there, and that's how the new clubs took off," Prothero said. "Being able to play at the mall is a huge billboard for us. Even the chess scene in the first Harry Potter book and movie has drawn some interest."

Lau, who is home-schooled, said he also enjoys basketball and playing the piano. His mother, Linda Inouye, believes chess helps her son's concentration.

"Some of the matches in these national competitions run past three hours," Inouye said. "You need mental as well as physical stamina."

Prothero said he believes the pattern recognition from certain chess moves also helps with a player's math and science skills.

Prothero said there are other Hawai'i students who could compete on a national level.

Paul Iinuma of Pearl City High School, who won the state high school chess championship this year and in 2000, will compete in the national championships this summer. Iinuma's younger brother, John, of Pearl City Highlands Elementary, is the state elementary chess champ. And Ryan Palomares of Kipapa Elementary in Mililani, who has won the K-3 level championship, could be one of the best "third-grade players in the country," Prothero said.

According to Prothero, interest in the sport has definitely expanded through the Internet, with players able to play others around the world at any time of the day.

But while the opportunity of competing with someone in person may be more intense and exciting, the somewhat shy Lau said he prefers playing others over the Internet.

"I like it because they don't know they're playing a kid," he said, grinning.