For almost an hour, Joshua Topliss patted his foot, slumped in his chair and methodically moved chess pieces as a crowd of 400 looked on.
He was at times frustrated and impatient, but always one move ahead of his opponent.
And he broke into a smile when he moved his queen from D8 to H8. The match had been won.
Topliss defeated his friend, Caleb Smith, to win the 13th annual live chess tournament Thursday in front of family, classmates and faculty at Leon Sheffield Magnet School.
“Check,” Topliss said after moving his thumb from the queen.
Smith knew the game was over.
“Congratulations,” he told Topliss.
The win was bittersweet because the honor students, both 11 and fifth-graders, have been pals since nursery school at Decatur Baptist Church.
“We played on a soccer team together and will always be friends no matter what,” Topliss said.
“If you don’t play chess,” teacher Nancy Brewer said, “it’s hard to understand how difficult it must have been for these two, playing in front of this many people.”
She announced every move Topliss and Smith made on their small board and made sure the students dressed as chess pieces moved to the right spot on a board in the middle of the school’s gymnasium floor.
Topliss, who has been playing chess with his father “since I was about 5 or 6,” said he knew about five moves before his last one that he had Smith.
“I could see that I had to push his king back into a corner,” he said.
Smith, a player for almost three years, sensed trouble much sooner.
“I kept thinking he might make a mistake, but he didn’t,” he said.
Smith said his troubles started early when Topliss managed to get his queen “to my back line.”
Topliss didn’t move to queen for almost 30 minutes until his rook and knight were near Smith’s king.
“All three pieces helped me win,” he said.
Parents of both students cringed each time one lost a piece.
But before the game, the mothers talked about middle school because Topliss and Smith will attend Cedar Ridge next year.
For the participants, there was a little friendly trash talk with classmates before the match.
“The school has been saying he was good, but we’re going to find out,” Smith joked to a friend about Topliss.
“I’m gonna win,” Topliss answered.
When Smith turned away, Topliss made a confession: “I have butterflies. He’s a good player.”
Deangelo McDaniel can be reached at 256-340-2469 or email@example.com.
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