Pope John High School sophomore Zach Nowel is a very studious person when it comes to school, and he has found a passion for chess. Beginning in 6th grade, Nowel has developed into one of the best chess players at Pope John.
This year’s National Chess Tournament for K-12 was held in Washington D.C., and Nowel won all seven of his matches over a 3-day span. This tournament was Nowel’s 4th national tournament. Grouped by chess rating, Nowel won the under 1200 group, becoming a national champion.
The tournament consisted of seven matches for each player with each player having 90 minutes on their clocks, meaning the approximate max time a game could take was three hours.
The first day of the tournament was on Friday March 31st which had two games for each player. The next day, April 1st, had three games for each player, and the final day, April 2nd, had two games for each player with an awards ceremony on the night of April 2nd.
Going into the tournament, Nowel was the third highest rated player in the under 1200 group with a 1190 rating.
“Round one was one of my hardest games since I felt I wasn’t completely in the tournament mindset,” said Nowel. “I blundered a pawn early in the game, but I found a tactic I thought was brilliant in order to come back by trapping his bishop and winning an endgame that could have been a draw if my opponent had played better.”
The round one victory gave Nowel a boost of confidence and since the second highest player entering the tournament lost their round one match, Nowel was already one step closer to playing on the top board which was a small goal that Nowel wanted to achieve.
“The top board was special since the matches were live broadcasted, so both my family and team could watch my match,” said Nowel.
Nowel won the round two match without any major mistakes and went into Saturday with a 2-0 record. The following morning, Nowel won his round three match with ease once again. The confidence was continuing to build, but he knew he needed to stay humble and not get cocky.
Last year’s tournament was successful for Nowel as he went four for seven, but he knew he could do better. Nowel said he didn’t feel nervous when he played his first match on the top board in round four since he was okay with losing a match or two. Round four, though, began and ended well for Nowel as he won his fourth match of the tournament, remaining perfect. Round five was another easy win for Nowel, so he headed into the final day with a perfect 5-0 record.
As the end neared, Nowel cruised past round six, but struggled in round seven because his opponent played an opening that Nowel said he has rarely seen. In the end, Nowel fought through the adversity to win a perfect 7 matches and became the under 1200 national champion.
The Pope John team has already gained a lot of confidence from Nowel’s success in Washington D.C. this spring, but it’s the learning aspect of the tournament that Nowel and the team can use to become even better players as they finish the 2022-2023 year.
“Supporting each other, wishing each other good luck, and reviewing our games helps grow our team’s confidence and hopefully will improve our results in the long run,” said Nowel.
Andrew Nowel, Contributing Sportswriter
Currently enrolled at Canisius University in Buffalo, New York, Andrew Nowel is an up-and-coming journalist/photographer and broadcaster. He wrote sports' articles for his high school, Pope John XXIII Regional High School. Andrew has worked with Morris Sussex Sports in sports broadcasting and analyzes professional sports in his free time. Andrew and his friend Ryan have a podcast that talks about professional sports and Canisius Athletics. Andrew also runs his own website about Canisius Athletics. He strives to inform the people about local sports and the young athletes of our communities from Buffalo to New Jersey and everywhere.
Andrew has provided previous and remarkable sports stories and photographs for the Ridge View Echo since he was 16 and enrolled at Pope John High School.