In the grand tradition of Boris Spassky, Paul Morphy and a guy he calls “Bobby Fishsticks,” 5-year-old Cory Evans is playing another brilliant game of chess.
He bobs up and down, runs around the table, occasionally slides off his chair and sticks his finger up his nose. He plays in a room with a Mickey Mouse poster on the wall.
But he’s good. Very good.
“If you play him, he’ll probably beat you,” said his dad, Larry Evans of La Costa.
In fact, he is the toughest kindergarten chess player in the country. In November, Cory defeated six other top kiddie players to win the kindergarten division of the prestigious U.S. National Grade School Chess Championships in Gilbert, Ariz., hauling off a trophy that comes all the way up to his chest. That’s about 2 1/2 feet.
“I thought I would win,” the champion said while scarfing down a carton of cottage cheese and pineapple tidbits. “But I’m not God; I can’t see through people’s minds.”
Maybe not, but his chess playing seems almost supernatural. His little hands a blur, he buzzes the knights and rooks and pawns around the board, simultaneously explaining the strategies of famous chess masters in a staccato chatter.
He beats adult players, but cannot beat his father. Yet.
Cory’s propensity for the game began early. A home video shows him at 18 months old, wearing diapers and playing chess. Back then, he could set up the board and he knew how each piece moved. By age 2, he could play a whole game, his mom said. At 4 years old, he won the California state title in his age group, and then the big competition last month sponsored by the U.S. Chess Federation.
It is too early to tell if Cory will turn out to be the next Bobby Fishsticks--er, Fischer--said Dan Edelman, assistant director of the New York-based U.S. Chess Federation, but he definitely will gain an academic and social edge from the game.
“Teach your kids chess and you teach them the very same skills to succeed in future life,” Edelman said. “Our feeling is that when children learn how to play chess they’re brighter students with better study habits and concentration than their peers who don’t play chess.”
To stay in top form, Cory practices chess several hours a week with the help of his dad, a former professional player and now a marketing consultant, who holds the title of “international master.”
“I figured if he’d learn chess at the rate he wanted, it would become part of his development,” said Evans, who also teaches a chess class at Cory’s school. “Sort of like being born with a silver pawn in his mouth.”
“In general, he’s very gifted in a lot of areas, but this is where his love is,” said Sharon Evans, formerly one of the top 50 women chess players in the United States and now a special education teacher in the Chula Vista school district.
The Evanses, who met in a chess club, said their son also loves soccer, coin collecting and jazz dance, but “is most profoundly precocious at math.”
To demonstrate, Cory’s father threw a couple of math problems at him. But even 375 + 375 and 125 + 50 could not stump the miniature chess master. He quickly calculated them in his head.
“He’s intellectually quite sharp. He can converse with you on a very interesting level,” said Nancy Sager, principal at Cory’s school. “But in his social life, he’s a child of 5. He has all the fun a child should have.”
Cory said he aspires to be a grandmaster at chess by 20, and has a few career ideas.
“I want to own a Family Fun Center, travel in a boat, be a scientist, be an astronaut and be a teacher,” he said.
Then his chess-like logic kicked in.
“But if I’m going to be an astronaut, I don’t know how I’m going to be a teacher because I’ll be out in space.”