Olympia High chess expert in position for big move

17-year-old student is a playoff away from reaching national tourney

Staff writerFebruary 27, 2014 


James Colasurdo, a 17-year-old junior at Olympia High School, plays chess with a friend at a weekly get-together Wednesday at the Urban Onion in Olympia. Colasurdo tied for first place in the 2014 State High School Individual Chess Championship.

TONY OVERMAN — Staff Photographer Buy Photo

James Colasurdo, 17, a junior at Olympia High School, recently tied with two other students for first place in the Washington State High School Individual Chess Championship.

He’ll face the state’s other co-champions — Michael Wang of Interlake High School in Bellevue and Samir Sen of Skyview High School in Vancouver — in a playoff March 22 in Olympia to determine who will go to the prestigious Denker Tournament of High School Champions in Florida this summer.

“Even if I lose the tiebreaker, I’m happy,” Colasurdo said. “It really is an honor to be representing the state as a high schooler.”

Colasurdo began playing chess at age 5.

He used to watch his older sisters compete in chess tournaments.

“One day he started to really pay attention,” said his father, Michael Colasurdo. “And he started to go further and further and further. He’s had a coach for a little while, but he’s mostly self-taught.”

This is Colasurdo’s third individual state championship in his scholastic chess career. He took fourth place in nationals as a kindergartner in 2000; and he came close to winning national titles in 2003 and 2005, too, his dad said.

Competitive chess players are given ratings based on their performance, and Colasurdo’s rating is 2,020.

“That’s considered expert, and the next stop would be master,” Michael Colasurdo said.

Michael Kent, co-founder of the Olympia Chess Club, said Colasurdo is always willing to go over moves with his opponents — that is, right after the teen has said “checkmate.”

“He plays very solidly,” Kent said after their recent match. “I was pleased to make it to move 22 before I blew it.”

Colasurdo is a regular at the club’s weekly gatherings Wednesday evenings at the Urban Onion Lobby.

“It’s like LeBron James coming down and playing an eighth-grade basketball game,” Kent said. “It’s a delight to have him around.”

Chess might look relaxing, but it’s actually a very physical and mentally draining activity, Colasurdo said.

“It’s a battle of the minds,” he said. “It’s very tiring and complex. The intensity of it, the excitement in your mind — one move can cost you the entire game.”

When he’s not playing chess, Colasurdo enjoys playing sports, video games and writing.

But chess is his favorite pastime.

“I truly love the game, and I find passion in it,” he said. “I will play until I’m old and gray.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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