CAPE ELIZABETH — The King of Maine is a kid.

For the first time in the 54-year history of the Maine State Chess Championship, the championship plaque went home with someone who has yet to enter high school.

Matthew Fishbein, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Cape Elizabeth High School, actually tied with two adults in last weekend’s annual two-day tournament in Waterville.

All three will share championship billing and have their names inscribed on the trophy, but tiebreaker rules fell in favor of Fishbein, meaning he took home the first-place hardware.

“I kind of got lucky with it,” Fishbein said from behind a chess board in the daylight basement of his Cape Elizabeth home, “because I played both of them and they didn’t play each other.”

Fishbein and Aaron Spencer each finished with a 4-1 record and Jarod Bryan was 3-0-2, giving them all the same number of points in the field of 29.


So perhaps fortune smiled upon Fishbein, but the folks in Maine’s chess community aren’t at all surprised. They’ve seen Fishbein run the table in the four scholastic state titles — K-3, K-6, K-8 and K-12 — before he reached seventh grade.

“He’s quite an interesting kid,” said Dan DeLuca, who first taught Fishbein the proper movement of chess pieces in a local recreation class in Cape Elizabeth designed for parents and young children.

DeLuca has since moved from Scarborough to Aurora, a small town north of Ellsworth, so he no longer teaches the class. But many of his former students got hooked on rooks. Brett Parker, a Cape Elizabeth junior, is the reigning high school state champion and will represent Maine at a national scholastic tournament in Washington state in August.

Fishbein, who won the high school state title as a sixth-grader (only to learn the national tournament bars non-high school students), will represent Maine in a national junior high tournament at the same venue in Washington. A year ago in Orlando, Fishbein tied for fourth in the nation in the junior high tournament.

Based on his U.S. Chess Federation rating of 2102, Fishbein is ranked 17th in the country among 14-year-olds.

“Last year, I really didn’t have a shot at winning it, honestly,” Fishbein said. “But this year, I feel like I might have a shot. It’s not the biggest shot in the world, but I feel like I might be able to.”


That Fishbein doesn’t act like a big shot and greets both victory and defeat with equal grace are qualities that have endeared him to Maine’s small but passionate community of tournament chess players.

“You have to lose a lot of chess games to become a good chess player,” said DeLuca, a sign language interpreter and teacher of the deaf.

“He has that ability to accept defeat and not be demoralized by it, to use defeat as a learning tool, to go over the game and try not to make that mistake again.”

Fishbein is on his fourth individual chess coach since DeLuca. The first was Philip Lowell, past president of the Maine Chess Association and director of the state tournament.

“I started coaching him when he was in fourth grade,” said Lowell, a custodian at Southern Maine Community College. “I did it for about 18 months and I felt I taught him everything I knew. Then I looked around to find a better chess coach for him.”

Lowell found Jason Spector, then a student at Bowdoin College, who worked with Fishbein for a year before handing him over to another Bowdoin student, David Plotkin. Both are rated as Experts, a title Fishbein recently achieved as well.


Since fall, Fishbein has been receiving weekly instruction — usually on Wednesday afternoons via Skype — from David Vigorito, an International Master who lives in Massachusetts and has written eight books on chess.

“Mainly we focus on getting me a key opening,” Fishbein said.

“That’s always kind of been my weakness. I’m good at the middle game, with ideas and (strategy), but in terms of openings, a lot of times I mess them up.”

Memorization and visualization are hallmarks of high-level chess players. One technique Matthew uses in practice is to turn away from the board, whose 64 squares each correspond to a letter and a number (E5, C4, etc.), and play his father in a game of “blind chess.” Dan Fishbein looks at the board. Matthew doesn’t.

How many moves can he keep track of in his head?

“As many as needed,” he said.

Dan Fishbein earned a medical degree, but works in the insurance industry. Ilene, who uses her maiden name of Schuchman, majored in English. Neither had much interest in chess until Matthew took the rec classes with DeLuca. Soon, they found themselves on the tournament circuit. Matthew played in about 20 last year, in six different states.

He spends perhaps an hour a day on an Internet chess club site, which allows him to play comparable opponents.

“You can take some days off,” he said, “but you can’t take too many days off. Like almost any sport, if you’re really competitive, you need to practice a lot.”

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