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Teenager makes all the right moves

Gresham High freshman wins three titles playing chess, including a national championship
by: Shanda Tice, Competition between Steven Breckenridge (right), 15, and his brother, David, 17, is intense and speed is the name of the game as they play chess around their dining room table Thursday, April 5.

When Steven Breckenridge and his brother, David, start playing chess, the pawns start flying, literally.

'There've been no injuries,' their father, Michael says. 'Only their egos.'

David, 17, a junior at Gresham High School, often stands up to make moves on the chess board as he plays his brother, a 15-year-old freshman at Gresham. Watching them play is more like watching two guys play a rough game of hockey rather than the genteel game of chess.

The two young men good-naturedly kid each other about one another's flaws as players and both have taken home trophies in the past from chess tournaments. But David is humble enough to proudly point out that his younger sibling is now a national champion.

Indeed, Steven has claimed three chess trophies in less than a month. He took first place in the kindergarten-through-ninth-grade blitz tournament at the 2007 National Junior High Championships in Sacramento, Calif., held Thursday through Sunday, March 29-April 1. Blitz games average between three to five minutes, Steven said.

He also tied for first for the nationals' K-9 championship. Meanwhile, prior to his performance in California, Steven was named Grand Champion of the Varsity Division at the 2007 Oregon Scholastic Chess Federation State Championship, held Saturday, March 24, in Salem.

A man of few words, Steven says he enjoys the tactical aspect of chess. He began playing chess a few years back with his father, Michael Breckenridge, and his grandfather, Joseph King, or 'Joe-King,' the brothers say with a laugh.

'It was just for fun at first,' Steven says of the family's chess games. 'But it's kind of gotten serious.'

His father points out that several universities dole out four-year scholarships to serious chess players, so Steven has set his sights on mastering the game. When asked whether this means he has to sacrifice his social life, Steven replies, with no trace of irony: 'What do you mean, social life?'

This comment draws laughter from both dad and David.

'I hear him crying out 'I'm lonely' all night,' David says with a laugh.

'There are girls who play chess, you know,' Michael adds with a smile.

Returning to the game at hand, Steven offers a variety of tips to aspiring chess players. Don't do drugs or drink to excess, he says, because substance abuse has destroyed many a great player's mind. To improve your game, visit http://www.chessclub.com/, the site of the Internet Chess Club. The site offers a variety of live online events for members, including lectures, lessons and matches.

Steven himself has played, and once even beat, famed Grandmaster chess player Hikaru Nakumara, online. But the Gresham youth learns as much from his defeats as his victories, his father says.

'Every time he gets beat by somebody who's a master, he learns from it,' Michael says.

In fact, Steven has begun to take on the mindset of a grandmaster, slowing down his pace a bit, he says.

'I made a lot of blunders when I was so overconfident,' he says. 'I'm more patient. You just slowly beat them.'

His father says some observers at the nationals thought his son was playing like a grandmaster, an observation he apparently shares.

'He started connecting all the dots,' Michael says.

Steven confesses to still getting nervous before certain matches. He wears a visor so he can focus on the game at hand, not his opponent. He and his brother start laughing about a fifth-grader from Russia, whom they said stared at him throughout one game at the nationals.

'Sometimes, I think the best thing I want to do is not know the person I'm playing,' Steven says.

In addition to possibly making chess his career, Steven says he has another ambition, which bodes well for any aspiring young players out there.

'I want to teach chess to kids,' he says.