The best elementary school chess players faced off in the Wellington Catholic District School Board’s annual chess tournament Wednesday at St. Peter Catholic Elementary School in Guelph.

A total of 216 students took part in the competition and this was the first time all 18 elementary schools were each able to put together a 12-student team.

"This is Grade 3 to Grade 8, and there's only one other event that we have in the school board that does that, which is cross country at the beginning of the year," Bob Schmalz, convenor for the tournament and a teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic Elementary School, said.

All the competitors play five rounds of matches against other students in their grade. Medals are handed out to the kids with the most points in each year at the end of the tournament. As well, the points of each team are combined, with a trophy awarded to the school with the most points.

Schmalz said, historically, Guelph’s St. Peter Catholic Elementary School has had the strongest team at the event.

"It's just another opportunity for kids to be a part of a team," he explained. "It's a little more accessible too, right? You don't have to be the student athlete, you don't have to be the singer, the dancer."

All the students have to first try out for their school team before getting to the tournament. For some, it’s the first chance they’ve had to represent their school in competition.

“I didn't make it last year, so I just wanted to try this year," saidJonathan Grieve, a Grade 8 student at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Elementary School.

He didn’t make the team last year, but worked hard to get a spot this time around.

"It's fun. You get to play chess all day which is nice," Grieve said.

It was also the first time at the tournament for Grace Hanlon, a Grade 3 student at St. Michael Catholic Elementary School. Hanlon loves that she’s learning something new so she can pass on that knowledge when she grows up.

"I really wanted to compete, because I don't do a lot of activities. I thought it would be fun to try something new," Hanlon explained. "I love how you get to express your feelings and you get to show how you want to play. It's strategy, it makes you smarter."

Other students at the tournament had competed before.

Adrian Skomorowski, a Grade 8 student at St. John Catholic Elementary School, competed in the tournament when he was in Grades 3, 4 and 7. He looks forward to the tournament each time.

"It's a little nervous seeing tons and tons of people all sitting in their desks playing chess. I just try to focus on my own game," Skomorowski said. "It's always nice, though, to see everyone playing chess [and] having fun.”

The event was officiated by a local and internationally-licensed arbiter.

Hal Bond is from Guelph and has officiated chess tournaments all over the world, but is also focussed on growing the game here at home.

"This is fantastic. This is the hatchery. This is where it all starts. All the young minds start coming out, and the new ideas hatching, it's wonderful to see the kids involved," Bond said.

He uses a sophisticated computer system to match players with the correct opponent and also brings timers and gives the event a more professional feel.

"You get a few kids who aren't familiar with the rules. When you impose a rule on them, it's a nasty surprise. However, they learn from that," Bond added.

The school board said the game continues to grow in popularity amongst its students. Next week they’ll hold their first ever tournament for secondary students.

"Between COVID and the [Netflix show] Queen's Gambit, I think that was the perfect one-two punch for chess," said Bond.