Thursday, July 9, 2020
Members of the Wilton Check Mates include, back row, from left: Mikko Pyykkonen, Sawyer Curtis, Oscar Brown, Thadyn Conner, Frank Randle and Kyle Kreigh. Middle row: Linus Arndt, Hudson Curtis, Sophie Curtis, Kai Pyykkonen, Josephine Brown, Ayawyn Conner and Zaida Carpenter. Front row: Daphne Arndt and Matias Pyykkonen. Herald photos by Pat MulvaneyFront, from left, Thadyn Conner is challenged by Kyle Kreigh, while Frank Randle gives a younger Sawyer Curtis a run for his money. Ayawyn Conner, front, contemplates her next move, while Linus Arndt appears to regret his last move.

Wilton chess club producing champs

Thadyn Conner, 15, and his 13-year-old sister, Ayawyn, started playing chess when they were little more than toddlers. They were each other’s lone opponents until they joined the Wilton chess club, The Check Mates, about three years ago.

Since then, they’ve thrived at the game, and rarely play each other unless pitted against one another in a tournament. They are both rising in the competitive rankings, and while Thadyn seems to have the lead in the sibling rivalry, Ayawyn isn’t far behind.

In fact, Thadyn proudly boasts that his sister is among the top 13-year-old chess players in the U.S. At a tournament in Wisconsin Dells on Nov. 16, Thadyn finished first, but Ayawyn was breathing down his neck, finishing in third place.

The Check Mates meet regularly at the Wilton Library, which is buzzing with activity when the club is in session. While most of the members are on the younger side, there are a couple more senior faces among them.

Frank Randle and Kyle Kreigh, are in their 60s, but enjoy playing the younger members, who giving them a run for their money.

Randle started coming to the club three years ago after reading an ad in the local paper announcing the formation of a new chess club. He showed up and just saw kids and wondered if he was in the right place.

He stuck around and started playing Thadyn and Ayawyn. “I was winning for the first year,” he said. “They got so good, I’m the guy taking lessons now.”

Kreigh, a regular face on the adult chess tournament circuit, read about the club in a news article and was intrigued. He started attending a year ago and has been coming back ever since.

Kreigh is ranked 45th in Wisconsin and has a 1,950 U.S. Chess Federation rating (the higher the rating the better).  Thadyn has a 1,675 rating.

“I’m keeping up with him for the moment,” said Kreigh, but he admits the master may soon become the student.

Thadyn said his prowess at the game comes from reading books on chess, annotating matches and going over his moves afterward, and practice.

“You really get better by playing more and more,” he said.

Ayawyn agrees. “There are principles you should follow that I think are hard to learn, but it’s really fun when you get to learn it,” she said.

Ayawyn added that the club members really encourage each other. At last week’s chess club meeting, she was helping mentor another brother and sister pair, Linus and Daphne Arndt. At five years old, Daphne is one of the youngest club members. She and Linus have yet to play in a tournament, but their enthusiasm is apparent.

In fact, there are a number of siblings on the team, which is made up primarily of home-schooled kids, whose parents are proud. They are the soccer moms of chess.

“I really don’t care how they do,” said Sarah Curtis, who has three children in the club. “I’m just proud of them for going and putting themselves out there. Putting yourself out there for an intellectual game like chess is gutsy.”

Beth Brown, who has two kids in the club, said the game helps her children intellectually and she can see the progress in her children.

“For the amount of time they meet, it’s amazing how much they can improve in the short time they are able to practice as a group,” she said.

Besides Thadyn and Ayawyn’s first and third-place showings at the Nov. 16 tournament, other teammates finishes in the middle and high division included: Josephine Brown-4th; Oscar Brown-6th; Cole Abbott-10th; and Mikko Pyykkonen-17th.  Kai Pyykkonen finished 4th in the K-6 division.

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