WATERVILLE — The 20 remaining players in Sunday’s Maine Closed Chess Championship settled into their chairs at the Best Western Plus Waterville Grand Hotel on Sunday afternoon for the final round in the two-day tournament.
They turned off their cellphones, wound up the clocks to time the game, started fresh score cards, laid out pencils and arranged the black and white pieces on the tables.
In the corner of the room, the two highest-ranked players in the state squared off. The last pair to start, they spoke in whispers, shook hands and started the clock for what would become three and a half hours of some of the best chess in the state.
Matthew Fishbein, 16, a sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, and Jarod Bryan, a 46-year-old data analyst from Augusta who had won the championship five times going into Sunday’s match, each offered to draw — or call it a tie — twice during the match.
In the end, Bryan came out on top for his sixth state chess championship in his almost 30-year career as a chess player.
The championship, which is held in Waterville annually, draws chess players from around the state. This year, 27 players in five rounds that took place most of Saturday and concluded with the Sunday afternoon match. The tournament is open only to players who live in Maine or attend college in Maine and are members of the Maine Chess Association, which sponsors the event — therefore “closed.”
“It was quite a game. It was very complex tactically but in the end experience beat youth,” said Bryan.
Bryan and Fishbein are the only chess players in Maine who are United States Chess Federation national masters, a ranking that is determined by points players earn based on their performance in tournaments. A player who earns 2,200 points is a master.
Fishbein, who is the recent winner of the Maine State Scholastic Individual Chess Championships, tied as a state champion in 2012 and 2013.
Bryan, who began playing chess while a student at Cony High School in the 1980s, has been a master since the age of 19.
On Sunday, the two were among the last to take their seats in the hotel conference room. Fishbein said before the final match that he was prepared to play his best.
“I just need to go in and give it my all,” he said. “It’s just two men staring at each other across a chess board.”
Fishbein finished tied for third in the tournament, while 14-year-old Joseph Powell from Friendship surprised the field with a second-place finish that he said will likely raise his rating by as much as 200 to 300 points.
Powell, who plays for Waldoboro’s Medomak Valley High School team, said Sunday’s championship was the best tournament he’s played in his life.
It earned him a nod from the state champion. “It’s quite an extraordinary feat,” said Bryan.
As for his own performance, Bryan described the match against Fishbein as a battle that provided a long and constant, but rewarding, mental challenge.
“I always get a high out of a good intellectual challenge,” he said. “Chess isn’t like any other game. There are more possibilities than there are atoms in the universe.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 firstname.lastname@example.org