Mangawhai chess champs plan next move

Ben Wyrsch-Copplestone, from Whangarei Heads School (left), plays Mangawhai Chess Club member Ryan Smith, of Otamatea Christian School.
Matthew Laurence-Goss, from Otamatea High School (left), plays Moana Wyrsch-Copplestone, of Whangarei Heads School.

Inspired by the Netflix mini-series The Queen’s Gambit, Mangawhai resident Tina Smith launched a chess club for junior players in 2021.

Two years later, a handful of its members are preparing to take part in regional and national competitions next month.

“My Dad taught all of us kids chess when we were young, but at a very basic level,” Smith says. “And being a typical girl, I wasn’t that interested. Plus, I wasn’t that smart either!”

After becoming a mum, she decided to teach her three sons to play the game.

Smith initially ran the club from her home, although during the covid pandemic the group would meet in the open-air courtyard behind Wood Street, using the public seating available there. It now meets at the Mangawhai Tavern on Tuesday afternoons.

As the club grew in numbers and popularity, Smith opened up a satellite group in Maungaturoto.

Currently, there are about 15 members in the two locations, with children coming from Mangawhai, Maungaturoto, Wellsford, Kaiwaka, Hakaru and Waipu. Tournaments are held at during the holidays, with winners receiving engraved trophies and medals.

Among the members are a young brother and sister whose parents manage a takeaway store in Mangawhai. After seeing them at the shop, looking idle and bored, Smith asked their parents if they would like to learn to play chess.

“We taught them from scratch, and now they are really good,” she says.

The girl, Victoria Dai, is the club’s top junior.

In a recent regional school teams competition, members of the club were among the first-placed intermediate division winners (Otamatea High School) and first-placed junior division winners (Mangawhai Beach School). Members also took top placings in individual categories.

Smith says no fewer than nine of the members of the little club have qualified for the national competition in Auckland on October 21 and 22. Among them is her youngest son, nine year-old Ryan.

The club is holding events including film screenings and raffles to raise funds to take part in that event, as well as a regional championship in Kerikeri a week later. It’s also appealing for donations of any size from area businesses to help cover costs, which include transport and entry fees.

Smith says chess is a great way of bringing together regardless of age, skill level or economic status. It can engage young people in something positive, and even help lower high rates of youth crime, she says.

“It’s a game that involves skill, tactics and strategy, a bit like our own lives. Every decision has consequences, just as it does in our lives.”