Chess champ

A board with thirty-two black spaces and 32 white spaces holds six different kinds of pieces, opposing each other from each end of the board. The first move has 20 possible moves. The second move then multiplies to 400 possible moves. The game is chess.

Sophomore Carter Peatman plays chess better than 90 percent of chess players in the United States and better than 97 percent of players his age. He knows the number of possible moves in the first and second turn, and calculates around five moves ahead subconsciously.

The World Chess Federation, French for Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) ranks Carter with 1,839 points. FIDE rates an expert at 2,000 points, and a grandmaster at 2,500 points. Bill Hall, Executive Director of US Chess Federation Tournaments (USCF) said that a rating of 1,800 or higher ranks excellently.

“[That score is] actually very, very good rank in chess for a recreational player,” Hall said. “Nobody would flinch at that rating, and you would have respect.”

Peatman’s dad taught him chess in elementary school until he began playing in tournaments in 2004.

Initially, Peatman lost all of his games as a tournament player at the Atlanta Chess Center, “and then I played there again . . . and I lost all my games,” Peatman said.

Finally, he won his first tournament game – against his father. A few months later – as a second grader – he went to the largest tournament in the United States. His rating jumped from 579 points to 922 points. Since then, he’s played in 343 tournaments.

Recently, The Atlanta Chess Center closed, so Peatman plays primarily online. The computer matches him with another player of his skill level, so he never runs out of opponents. He plays for fun around five times per week.

“If I’m playing someone who’s not that good, then I want to play a shorter game,” Peatman said. “If I’m playing someone who’s better than me, or higher rated than I am, I want to play a longer game so I have time to learn, see what went wrong, and see why they’re better than me.”

For Peatman, experience builds skill. According to him, effort and time matter more than smarts in chess. A good chess player is devoted and willing, he said.

But strategy also plays an essential role. Chess is a game between best moves, Peatman said. Blocking moves, analyzing positions and seeing through the opponent’s perspective determines who wins.

“Every move needs to have to do something. Every move is important,” Peatman said. “At the top level, if one person makes a mistake, it’s over.”

Often the most frustrating parts for Peatman come from making small mistakes that throw off the game.

“I’ll forget what I’m thinking. I’ll be only looking at the moves and not looking at the whole position,” Peatman said. “I’ll miss something and then . . . I mean, something like that can cost you the whole game. I still get really mad when I lose. When you put a lot of effort into something and it doesn’t go your way, it’s hard to deal with that.”

Anybody could learn to move the chess pieces in five minutes, Peatman said. But trying hard actually does pay off.

“It’s the effort. [Smarts aren’t] everything,” Peatman said. “It’s the effort you put into it. You can have a really smart person that’s terrible at chess and a really dumb person that put a lot of effort into it and is good at chess.”

Besides serving as entertainment, chess has little application. Walter Brown, the ratings officer for FIDE coordinates tournaments, found an application for his love of games, specifically chess. He travels the world and approves titles above master, including grandmaster. He played chess in college and began working for FIDE less than 10 years ago.

“I like [the competition], figuring out the moves, carrying out the play, seeing how it works,” Brown said.

Hall, who runs tournaments from the East Coast to the West Coast, appreciates chess for a different reason.

“[Chess is] also a good game to play just as a hobby,” she said. “It just gives you something to do as you get to know these people regularly at tournaments.”

The two largest competitions, nationals (every year) and supernationals (every four years), attract competitive chess colleges like the University of Texas, home to 18 grandmasters, that award scholarships to the top five competitors.

Most of the time, however, the students don’t use the scholarships. “I know the kid who won [the scholarship] one time,” Peatman said. “He told me after he won it, ‘I’m just not going there,’ and I was like, ‘you [have to] at least think about it.’ It’d be cool to go into college and to be the best player there,” Peatman said.

As a sophomore, and someone who simply loves to play chess, playing chess professionally seems an implausible option. Competitions pay winning players, but losing players can lose more than $1,000. The lucky ones, including Brown, find careers in chess difficult to pursue.

“It’s hard making a living in chess,” Brown said. “They say, ‘I don’t have time for chess. Chess is just a game.’ Very few people can make a living out of it.”

While Hall and Brown enjoy traveling the world for chess, competitors risk more to play in world competitions. For now, Peatman doesn’t have to worry about that.

Despite the common belief that chess players all fit into one category, the chess world has no racial domination or specific stereotype. Yet out of the top 100 chess players in the world, only one is a woman.

“By far, there are more men playing,” Brown said. “I don’t know about the percentages, but it’s very lopsided. A lot more young girls play . . . but by the time they get into high school, most of them drop out. Boys have dropped out too, but more boys continue than girls continue. That’s just the way it is.”

As a short-term goal, Peatman ‘play like a 2,000.’ A 2,000 is at the expert level, 400 points away from a grandmaster.

“Anyone can make the goal and then not do anything,” he said.“My goal is to become a better chess player, not to achieve a rating.

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Learn more about chess for all levels of players. Test your chess skills with checkmate problems below. For solutions, look at the bottom of the page.

For the Novice:

To learn how the basic rules of chess, click here:

The goal of the game is to capture the other side’s king. Remember that the queen covers diagonals, columns and rows, so it’s the most valuable piece. In order to win, you must threaten the king: trap it so it can’t move. If you ‘check’ the opposing king’ one of your pieces is attacking the other’s king. You win when by putting the opposing king in ‘checkmate.’ Checkmate is when you put the other king in ‘check,’ and the king can’t move out of it. This is the shortest chekmate possible:

For the beginner:

Try to get checkmate for the following setup in two moves. The black king should be put in checkmate and the white side should win in two moves:




Mirina chessboard checkmates

Hint: The king can’t put the other king in checkmate. To protect the white queen, you can put the white king behind.


For the amateur:

Try to get checkmate for the following setups. The white should win in two moves.




Hint: Check out the four positions to checkmate with only a queen and two kings. For the second puzzle, note that if the king can’t move, it’s a stalemate (a tie, nobody wins). Make sure to open up a space for the king.

For the intermediate:

Try to get checkmate for the white in two moves.




Tip: Look at how many squares the white pieces cover around the black king.

For the expert:

For the first problem, try for checkmate in two moves, white winning. For the next problem, try for checkmate in three moves. Think you have the answer? Comment below.







beginner 1: white king to c3 (Kc3), black king to a4 (Kc4), white queen to b4 (Qb4)
amateur 1: white queen to f5 (Qf5), black pawn to c5 (c5), white queen to g4 (Qg4)
amateur 2: white knight to h5 (Nh5), black king to h7 (Kh7), white queen to g7 (Qg7)

Think you know the answer for the rest? Comment below.