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Sunderland check-mates

Year 8 students Anya Thurner and Yolanda Chang are the best of friends. They’re also formidable chess players, and this month the pair are representing New Zealand in a nail-biting global chess competition, the FIDE (World Chess Federation) Online Olympiad.

Students Yolanda Chang, Anya Thurner, Eric Mironov, William Zhang and coach Christoph Thurner

The inaugural event runs from July 22 to August 30 and will see twelve-year-old Anya represent the New Zealand Under 20 women’s team, competing against top chess players from Malaysia, Albania, Monaco, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, and Syria. Meanwhile, team reserve Yolanda got the competition off to a flying start, beating her Hong Kongese adversary in the first game of the tournament.

“It was an incredibly nerve-wracking game, but I think the pressure helped me win,” says Yolanda, who was part of the ACG Sunderland team that achieved a landslide victory at the recent West Auckland Intermediate Chess Championships. Next month she and her fellow teammates will head to Mt Maunganui to battle it out for the national title.

For Anya, the Online Olympiad presents an opportunity to increase her chess rating and build her international competition experience. No stranger to global tournaments, she has already competed in the World Cadet Chess Championships three times.

“I love playing in tournaments and was so excited when I found out I’d been selected for the NZ U20 women’s team,” says Anya, who discovered her passion for the game at the tender age of four, when her grandfather and father taught her how to play.

Anya, Yolanda and their fellow chess lovers are well catered for at ACG Sunderland. The Primary school currently runs beginners and advanced classes through Chess Power with 44 students across the two groups.

Anya’s father and qualified FIDE Instructor Christoph Thurner teaches the advanced level, and also makes a significant contribution to the game at ACG Sunderland’s Senior school. Last year he launched the Advanced Sunderland Chess Academy, which runs every Tuesday afternoon and coaches the school’s top players. This year he further expanded the offerings, starting an Intermediate Chess Academy, which runs every Monday at lunchtime.

“Currently we have five regular attendees in the Advanced Academy and about ten students from Year 3 to 10 in the Intermediate Academy. This is designed for students who want to improve their skills but who would be lost in the advanced group,” says Christoph.

But that’s not all that’s on offer. A student-led chess club for pupils from Years 7 to 13 provides friendly lunchtime games for chess enthusiasts of all levels. And for Yolanda Chang it’s a weekly highlight.

“I love it when all of my chess friends get together and play a fun version of chess, where we have to work together as a team to help our partners win.”