The Taos Knighthawks chess team kicked off its 29th consecutive year in the Northern Schools Chess League in good fashion. This year’s inaugural meet, held in Los Alamos, was attended by 42 teams from Northern New Mexico Oct. 9. The Taos team sent a small contingent of middle school-aged players and ended the first four rounds clearly in first place in its division at 14-2 and tied for second among all schools – including high schools.
In the very first round, the Knighthawks were paired up against their perennial rivals from Los Alamos. Their opponents were missing some of their top players, and the Taos team capitalized on the deficiency to rack up a perfect 4-0 score and establish itself early on as one of the top teams.
The second round against a group of players from Mandela Magnet School in Santa Fe proved to no match for Taos, and they cruised to another perfect score.
In the next round, Santa Fe Indian School proved to be a tougher matchup – coming into the joust as one of the other undefeated schools. Though the competition was a bit stiffer, the Knighthawks managed to maintain their streak and came away with an individual match record of 12-0 through three rounds.
In the fourth and final round of preliminaries, Taos faced the Santa Fe Academy of Technology and Classics (ATC) – a high school league co-champion team last year that boasted an 11-1 record after the first three rounds.
It proved to be an exciting round, as the Knighthawks and ATC traded wins to set up a final showdown.
Playing on board four for the Knighthawks was ninth-grader Jaimie Ritchie, the top-rated girl among all 42 teams present. Ritchie made a miscalculation early on and found herself in a tough position. A gutsy queen sacrifice, however, led Ritchie to an eventual checkmate. Taos was on the board 1-0.
A defeat on board three evened out the score at 1-1, while the game on board two became interesting. Taos High School freshman Nitis Morgan had set up an aggressive attack, but minor mistakes and time blunders cost him the victory in an exciting game, leaving Taos down 1-2. It was up to Morgan’s brother on board one to find victory.
Knighthawk freshman Kian Morgan was the fourth-ranked player among the more than 150 players present. Each game played by Kian up to the final match was faultless and sharply executed for victories. This last game against ATC’s best player proved no different. Kian Morgan made simple, yet deep moves – forcing his opponent to resign and knotting up the round at 2-2.
“Not a bad day,” said coach Dennis Hedges. “I was glad the players found time in their busy schedules to attend.”
The next meet on the schedule will take place in Wagon Mound Nov. 17.
“Hopefully, for the next meet, we can add a few more teams from Vista Grande, Anansi, Taos Pueblo and other schools,” said Hedges, “and hopefully rack up a few more victories.”