CARIBOU, Maine — Hailey Holmquist, a Caribou High School senior, is heading in June to the national Susan Polgar Invitational Chess Tournament in St. Louis, Missouri, after placing second in the Maine Girls’ Chess Championship.
Holmquist said that at the start of the state tournament held at the Bangor Public Library on Feb. 2, she was seeded six out of 20. She eventually lost in the final round to the first place winner, Agata Sloniewska, a native of Poland and sophomore at Thornton Academy in Saco.
The winner qualified to participate in two national competitions: one in St. Louis and one in Florida.
“The girl who won has the choice to go to both, or deny one, and I get to choose next if I want to go,” said Holmquist. “I’m guessing she didn’t want to go to St. Louis, so now I have the ability to go.”
The St. Louis tournament takes place from June 22 to 27, and Holmquist said she is “honored to go as a Maine representative to a national tournament.”
The high school senior said she began playing chess as a freshman because her friends convinced her to play. From there, she quickly picked up on the strategy and nuances of the game.
“I didn’t know how to set up a board,” she said of her first game, “let alone move the pieces, but I guess that’s all I needed to know. I caught on the strategy aspect pretty well. I ended up winning my first game, but I’ve had a lot of losses along the way, and plenty of practice.”
As far as strategy is concerned, Holmquist said it’s important to “think at least five moves ahead,” while anticipating any possible counter attacks.
“Act like you’re playing yourself,” she said, “so if you’re white, act like you’re playing black, and think about what you would do to counter yourself.”
Games are timed, but she said it can take chess players ten minutes to make a single move depending on how critical the situation is.
“It’s critical to take your time so you’re not impulsive,” she said. “The only downside is that your opponent is also able to think on your time.”
Caribou High School Chess Coach Steve Burden said that in all of his time as a coach and even as a member of the chess team when he attended CHS, he has never seen a Caribou student go to a national event.
About 20 students are playing chess this year, and Burden said the Caribou team fosters a positive atmosphere for new recruits.
“It’s a good place to be,” he said. “The kids are easy to be around.”
Burden has played chess since he was in fifth grade, and said that in the future he hopes to find a way to get students to participate in more downstate games so they can have “more tournament exposure.”
Holmquist said that while playing chess competitively can be stressful, she recommends that everyone try playing it casually.
“It’s very enjoyable when you’re playing for fun,” she said. “I’d encourage anyone to play chess; it’s a fun game to play with friends. It really gets you thinking strategically and it can help with the academic side of things as well, especially with math.”
Burden added that he is very proud of Holmquist for achieving a spot in a national tournament.
“Hailey is just an outstanding young lady, academically and socially,” he said. “We’re really proud of her.”