Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Kris Meekins (standing), 18, a national chess master and a senior at Lake High School, plays multiple boards of chess at the Voris Community Learning Center in Akron, Ohio.
(Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

Most sports pit teams against similar-size teams or one-on-one matchups.

But on Saturday afternoon, Kris Meekins of Springfield Township spent a few hours playing some one-on-18.

The 18-year-old chess master and Lake High School senior displayed the prodigious talent that garnered him the title as a National Master and the top chess player in the state of Ohio as he took on all comers at a simultaneous exhibition at the Voris Community Learning Center in Akron.

Sponsored by the Akron Chess Club with help from the YMCA, the exhibition pitted Meekins against any and all players. After a couple of hours, the Master was 13-0.

''There hasn't been any real competition yet,'' said Joe Yun, executive director of the Akron Chess Club.

''They don't know it yet and they keep playing, but he's beat a few people in six or eight moves,'' he said.

Meekins was introduced to chess at 12 years old by his father, Curt, whom he quickly surpassed in skill. Meekins joined the Akron Chess Club where Yun and other experienced players saw something special in the then-preteen.

''Oh, you can recognize talent right away. There is only so much studying and reading and practicing you can do before natural talent has to kick in to take you to the next level, and he's way beyond talented,'' Yun said.

At 14, Meekins won $10,000 and a trophy at the 33rd annual World Open chess tournament in Philadelphia. He has steadily climbed up the state and national rankings and is currently sitting atop the state rankings.

Meekins is not only a chess master but also a proponent of the game as a way to teach strategic and critical thinking, as well as a social outlet.

''I always liked strategy and games that make you think,'' Meekins said during a break.

''I'm definitely a proponent of chess. It also helps me in other things in school like math. And this YMCA is a great location. I've met so many people from all over just from playing chess and it keeps kids off the streets,'' he said.

The Akron Area YMCA has a pilot program at Voris elementary.

Meekins stood in the middle of a square formed by tables full of 18 chessboards ready for play. Meekins, toting a big bottle of blue Gatorade and occasionally pausing to check his phone between moves, slid from game to game quickly assessing each situation, making a move and moving to the next, usually leaving his opponent staring intently down at the board.

Among the fodder for Meekins' chess cannon was Akron Chess Club member Walter Hunt of Akron, whose defeat came after about 40 moves.

''I lost but I think he took it easy on me. Lots of times he won't mug you directly. He'll just take his time and gently mug you,'' Hunt said chuckling.

Larry Murphy and his young son Richard drove from Hermitage, Pa., to take on Meekins.

''We saw it on the Web site and how often do you get to play a National Master?'' the elder Murphy asked while munching on Burger King.

In his game, Murphy was doing better than most of the competitors and even had a possible winning position.

''Yeah, I see it. I just don't know how to make it work,'' he said staring at the board.

Meekins said he doesn't get much practice out of these exhibitions, but he simply enjoys playing chess, meeting new players and spreading the word.

Meekins will graduate next spring and says he's considering going to the University of Akron and believes a career in medicine may be in his future. But he also may apply for chess scholarships at schools such as the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Maryland.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758.

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