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Hopkinton first grader wins national chess title

by | May 29, 2024 | Featured, Featured: Features

Devansh Vellanki

Devansh Vellanki has collected numerous awards for chess.

Harini Chadalavada and her husband, Arum Vellanki, noticed that their young son Devansh could keep himself occupied for hours playing with Legos and puzzles — sitting and focusing intently on what he was doing.

The Hopkinton residents decided to teach him about chess and how the pieces move.

That was two years ago, when Devansh was about 5.

“As soon as he started, he took to it right away,” Chadalavada said. “Even at two months short of 5, he had the emotional maturity,” she said.

Now, the first grader at eBridge Montessori School in Westborough has made a name for himself in the world of chess.

At the 2024 U.S. Chess Federation National Elementary Championship in April, the 7-year-old emerged as the national champion in the K-1 category, sharing the title with two others. There were 147 competitors in all.

His mother felt “extremely happy” about the results, noting that Devansh was very passionate about working toward achieving his goals, and this title was a great accomplishment. To earn it, he achieved an undefeated score of 6.5/7.

The four-day tournament in Columbus, Ohio, was comprised of seven rounds with approximately 1,600 players from 43 states participating.

Chadalavada explained that parents and spectators are not allowed into the room when play is underway, although she admits they can peek from a distance now and then to see how things are going.

A month prior, Devansh tied for first place at the 16th annual open tournament at Foxwoods Resort in Ledyard, Connecticut. This event featured competitors from various countries and ran for three days. Devansh remained undefeated in the under-1,400 rating category with four wins and three draws. He won a cash prize of $1,266.

What is different about an open tournament is that the first grader can be competing against adults in addition to young people.

Chadalavada noted that her son played against people in their 30s to 50s and had to have stamina to complete the rounds, which run up to three hours. No talking is allowed during play.

Devansh said he enjoys playing against adults and kids of all ages. His focus is on the game, however, and not getting excited or nervous at tournaments.

“Technically, I don’t feel anything,” he said. “I only think and feel about the game.”

Devansh likes to play soccer and said he previously used to swim and play tennis.

His favorite subject at school is science, and he practices chess “almost every day.”

His younger brother, Vedansh, who is 3, already is learning about chess thanks to the champion.

“I do teach him,” Devansh noted. As for what he likes best about chess, he said it’s “the game and trying to pick which pieces” to move.

Prior to the big events, Devansh participates in other club tournaments for his age group as well as K-12.

Chadalavada explained that these tournaments are held in places like Westborough, Burlington, New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, so travel is involved. On weekends, it can be a 12-hour day.

Hoping to slow down his schedule a bit, Chadalavada said she felt confident her son would do well in the major events.

“It’s a national competition and I expected he would do his best,” she said. “I knew he would be there [at the top] someday.”

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