The Best and The Brightest / Valley Valedictorians : VERDUGO HILLS HIGH SCHOOL : Chess Player Skilled at Charting Success

Times Correspondent

Ever since he was 6 years old, Verdugo Hills High School valedictorian Thatcher Friese has been thinking ahead to his next move.

It’s a skill he learned playing chess, but it applies to getting straight A’s as well.

Thatcher’s affinity for chess, which he learned from his mother, who learned it from her father, turned out to be much more than a diversion from his studies.


“It’s exciting. It improves your critical thinking,” said the Stanford University-bound 17-year-old. “Chess is a game where you can use a lot of strategy.”

A quiet, ruddy-faced teen-ager, Thatcher started playing chess seriously in ninth grade and began competing in chess tournaments with encouragement from his math teacher. He won awards at his school, but not at the larger tournaments.

“He has a real strong math and science background. Chess fascinates him,” said Scott Kemple, who taught math for three years to Thatcher and lets students use his room to play chess during the day. “He’s the best at the school by far.”

Thatcher keeps a traveling chess set and a computer chess board under his bed and plays a few games with a group of friends at school every day.

But the guitars, amplifiers and stacks of alternative rock and heavy metal compact discs that crowd his bedroom suggest that his attention is sometimes splintered by other interests. Thatcher also plays golf on the school team, and basketball and baseball with friends.

He has lived with his mother and sister in a cozy house in the hills of Tujunga ever since his parents divorced more than a dozen years ago.

Every weekend, Thatcher sees his father, who has written for television shows such as “Roseanne,” “The Wonder Years” and “Evening Shade,” in Studio City. Thatcher said his father, who attended Stanford University, urged him to do well so he could attend a top university.

“He used to say C’s weren’t allowed,” Thatcher said. “But then it became an ego thing. I thought, ‘There’s no reason for me to get a B.’ “‘

A modest teen-ager who blushes when talking about his accomplishments, Thatcher said he plans to keep his graduation speech short.

He could only guess at what he might say.

“It’s all about living up to your potential,” he said. “I’ve done my fair share of hard work.”