When organizers began the inaugural Chessfest event at Midland eight years ago, the idea was to give kids interested in chess an opportunity to compete locally.
“It was a group of people in the community including Senator Ben Sasse and his family, at the time he was the president of Midland, and we decided that there was enough interest in chess in the community that we should organize a larger event,” Will Mitchell, president of Imaginarium which organizes the event, said.
What started with around 50 chess players from around the Fremont area, now plans are to host more than 150 competitors from around the area and beyond.
“We’ve seen some really nice growth, and last year especially it just blew up in ways we weren’t expecting,” Mitchell said.
According to Mitchell, last year’s Chessfest hosted competitors from throughout eastern Nebraska including Lincoln and Omaha, as well as players from out-of-state.
“We had people from Iowa come over, and people from the Nebraska-Missouri border drive up,” he said. “We even had one family that was driving through to Wyoming and happened to be in the Fremont area that had their kids compete.”
Next weekend young chess players in grades K-12 will again descend upon the campus of Midland University to sharpen their game at the 8th Annual Chessfest on April 21.
The event is set to begin at 9 a.m. on that day inside Hopkins Arena and will provide a more festive atmosphere than most chess tournaments.
“We call it Chessfest, because we wanted to make it a festive environment so when the kids come they can have some fun,” Mitchell said. “The atmosphere we thought could be enhanced a little bit so it feels more like an event.”
According to Mitchell, that is why the annual chess competition features a stage, banners, concession and trophies among other prizes.
“We also have partnered with Oriental Trading Company and they have provided us with some prizes, and we have drawings for fancier chess sets, like Batman chess and Harry Potter chess,” he said.
The type of chess that will be played at Chessfest is known as scholastic chess, which is different that rated chess that is played at many competitive tournaments in Omaha and Lincoln.
“What scholastic chess means is that it is done in a format that is competitive but also gives everybody a chance to play,” Mitchell said. “We match up people based on their self-assessed skill level and grade level, so they are going to be pretty evenly matched with their opponents.”
With such a wide gap between player’s ages and skill-levels, Chessfest competitors are broken up into groups of 6-8 to each table where they play round robin style to determine a winner.
“Out of 150 people that does sound like a lot, but when you play 6-8 other people and you are basically playing for 2-3 hours each time, that is a mental marathon,” Mitchell said.
According to Mitchell, with this format each table of 6-8 players is like a self-contained tournament with winners being chosen from each table.
“Everyone plays everyone else at the table and based on those results, who won the most games, we determine the ranking,” he said. “Everyone at that table is then given an award for performance at that table.”
Another thing that sets Chessfest apart from other chess tournaments in the area is the organizers effort to provide all of the chess sets needed for the event.
“A lot of tournaments will have you bring your own set, which makes sense, but I thought for this special event we will work to supply chess sets,” Mitchell said. “We have about 100 chess sets that we have acquired over the years as we have raised money through concessions and contributions, so when they come in we have tables set up and all the chess sets are set up and it just looks really sharp.”
The cost to compete at Chessfest is $5 for early registration and $8 for walk-ins on tournament day. The cost of registration includes a Chessfest T-shirt to all competitors.
According to Mitchell, competitors who walk-in and register on the day of the tournament need to be at Hopkins arena around 8:30-8:45 a.m. before the tournament begins.
“As part of your registration you get a T-shirt to commemorate it and that just never happens at most chess tournaments,” he said. “If you register on the day of we will mail out your T-shirt so you don’t lose that opportunity.”
More information about Chessfest and registration forms for the event can be found online at fremontchessfest.com.