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Chess competitors overtake library, Saxonburg shops

Suhruth Gooda ponders his next move during a chess match with Shane Trettel at the Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament Saturday, March 2, at the South Butler Community Library. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

SAXONBURG — Michelle Lesniak, director of the South Butler Community Library, is accustomed to being the institution’s queen, but she was just one of dozens on Saturday.

The 1st Saxonburg Open chess tournament was held from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the library, where tables filled with both youth and adult players were spread through the main room.

Gabriel Petesch, tournament director, said all 44 spots filled up quickly for the tournament.

He said the two youth tournaments held previously in Saxonburg nearly sold out, but Saturday’s tourney likely maxed out because all ages were invited.

The main room in the library, though filled with the 44 players, was dead silent as competitors concentrated on their next move.

“They have to keep that tournament atmosphere,” Petesch said.

He explained that players are squared off against one another by skill level, and everyone plays four games. The player who wins all four games, he said, would likely be the winner.

Adult players received cash prizes, while youth received ribbons and trophies.

Petesch said he moderates a chess tournament in Western Pennsylvania every few months.

“Saxonburg is great,” he said. “I like the facility and the Saxonburg Chess Club helps promote it.”

Jason Siemer, whose son, Oliver, started the Saxonburg Chess Club at age 13 in 2022 with a little guidance from his dad, recalled the impetus for his son’s ambition in starting up the club.

“Oliver is really into chess, and once he learned he was much better than me, it was no fun to play anymore,” Siemer said.

The club meets at the South Butler Community Library from 5 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday evening. Meetings are free, and players of any age and skill level are welcome, Siemer said.

“There are a lot more people (in the club) than I thought there would be,” he said.

Siemer lauded the extra effort of Lesniak in offering up space at the library for the weekly club meetings and tournaments.

“I don’t think we would have a chess club if it wasn’t for the library being so accommodating and supportive,” Siemer said. “Michelle is awesome.”

Siemer said the chess tournament has an incidental effect on players as well.

“A lot of chess players are introverted, but when you get them together, they really come out of the shells and have a great time,” he said.

Suhruth Gooda, 11, of Mars, said the event on Saturday was his fourth or fifth chess tournament.

“Chess improves my brain,” Suhruth said of the game’s benefits. “It keeps everything sharp and I understand other stuff better.”

Daniel Mills, 12, of Glenshaw, played in his seventh tournament on Saturday.

“It’s a fun game, but it also can be a competitive sport, too,” Daniel said.

He said there is no single personality type or set of skills that makes a person good at chess, he said.

“You have to be hardworking because anybody can be good at chess if they try to improve and if they practice,” Daniel said.

Bradley Taylor, 14, of Robinson Township, agreed.

“Everyone could excel at chess if they practice and put in the work,” Bradley said.

He has competed in 10 or 11 chess tournaments in the area and looked forward to perusing the quaint town of Saxonburg during the tourney lunch break.

“It’s a pretty little town,” Bradley said of the borough. “I’m going to have lunch with my mom and I’m looking forward to checking out the shops.”

Charlene Xu, 10, of Indiana Township, Allegheny County, was among just a few girls who participated in the tournament on Saturday.

“I don’t even think about it,” Charlene said.

She has participated in five to 10 chess tournaments.

“There’s nothing you have to do,” Charlene said of her love of the game. “You can choose what you want to play and you can always change your mind.”

Lesniak locked the library’s front door during the tournament so as to not disturb the players, allowing regular patrons and players to come and go through the building’s back door.

She said she was happy to give the Saxonburg Chess Club a home at the library, and to hold the tournament on Saturday, too.

“When the library is part of the community and you can bring people into the community, it kind of puts us on the map,” Lesniak said.

The Saxonburg Chess Club held its first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Kyle Xin makes a move during his chess match with Shyam Asher at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Vick Xin (left) and Kellan Hackett compete in a chess match during The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Gabriel Bandos ponders his next move during his chess match with Brody Foreback at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Connor Chen ponders his next move during his chess match with Joseph Mucerino Jr. at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Connor Chen makes a move during his chess match with Joseph Mucerino Jr. at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Brody Foreback makes a move during his chess match with Gabriel Bandos at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Joseph Mucerino Jr. (left) makes a move during his chess match against Connor Chen at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Shourya Autade makes a move during his chess match with Daniel Mills during The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Shourya Autade makes a move during his chess match with Daniel Mills during The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Chernykh ponders his next move during his chess match with at Calvin Mills at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Chernykh ponders his next move during his chess match with at Calvin Mills at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Alex Chernykh ponders his next move during his chess match with at Calvin Mills at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Connor Chen (right) makes a move during his chess match with Joseph Mucerino Jr. at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
The Saxonburg Chess Club held its first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Shyam Asher (left) and Kyle Xin compete at The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Vick Xin (left) and Kellan Hackett compete during The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Kellan Hackett eyes his opponent, Vick Xin, during The Saxonburg Chess Club's first all-ages chess tournament at the South Butler Community Library on Saturday, March 2. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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