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Chess gives teen all the right moves

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 8:53 p.m.
Vinnie DeFazio, chess player extraordinaire, is a student at Greensburg Salem High School.

Greensburg Salem High School sophomore Vinnie DeFazio, 16, began honing the skills back in kindergarten.

And then it came down to one game.

Chess.

And he was fierce.

DeFazio won first place in the Under 800 division of the Pennsylvania State Chess Tournament held in Carlisle March 10-11.

And while he was at it, he won sixth place in a four-way tie out of 140 participants in the ultra-competitive 7-12 U1000 Division.

And to think one of the first honors he claimed was the chess champion record at Hutchinson Elementary School, along with first place in the unrated division in 2006.

DeFazio had a 776 score and then jumped 200 points to compete in the U1000 Division.

This win was special for DeFazio because he hadn't won the tournament since the fourth grade. Back then, he worked with a coach. This time he coached himself. Since none of his family or friends play, he went online to “try out different moves and stuff.”

Turns out he had the right stuff.

“Chess makes you think outside the box ... you can't predict what's going to happen next,” DeFazio said. “I love that part about it.”

He began playing in kindergarten, following in his two older brothers' footsteps.

They grew out of it. He didn't.

Hockey coach Jason Detesta said that DeFazio's skills translate from the chessboard over to the ice.

“He envisions three or more moves ahead,” said Detesta of Mt. Pleasant. “He's able to think three or more steps in advance on the ice in order to make a play. The processes and strategies he's learned in chess make him a great leader on the ice for us.”

Even in kindergarten, DeFazio won the international division at Hutchinson Elementary School because, he said, it just came easily. He continued to win tournaments in third, fourth and fifth grades.

He said that, although chess is not a team sport, it enables him to reach out to people he wouldn't normally talk to.

“It brings out the best in me when I'm playing,” he said.

He said his chess skills benefit him in other areas of his life — like when he's playing hockey, baseball and dekhockey.

It also helped on his path to become a Life Scout who is one badge away from reaching the top as an Eagle Scout.

DeFazio is motivated to excel and “he gives it 1,000 percent,” reported his mother, Charlene DeFazio. “He doesn't stop until he gets there.”

DeFazio said he does not get to play chess as often as he'd like so he hopes to organize a chess club as his senior project and “just play.”

The game “teaches me to always believe in myself and that anything is possible,” he said. “It was really nice this year to be rewarded for all of the hard work that I put into it.”

Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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