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Vir Datt, State K-5 Chess Champion
Vir Datt, State K-5 Chess Champion
Posted on 03/18/2021
Fifth grade chess champion Vir Datt outranked 76 talented players to win this year’s K-5 state tournament.By: Benjamin Rickert
BCS Communications Dept.

Can you beat a fifth-grader in chess? Probably not this one.

Fifth grade chess champion Vir Datt outranked 76 talented players to win this year’s K-5 state tournament. The 2021 North Carolina K-12 State Chess Championship was held online March 5-7, hosted by the Charlotte Chess Center & Scholastic Academy. Vir is a student of Charles T. Koontz Intermediate School and a current mentee of state chess hall-of-famer Neal Harris.

Vir Datt makes a move on the chess board.“Vir is a very good chess player with an aggressive style, and as a fifth-grader he has an exceptional ability to focus,” said Harris. “He works hard both at the board and away from it.”

Vir was first introduced to the game at age five when his grandfather visited from India and gave him a Harry Potter-themed chess board. He learned the rules by playing against his father, Praveen Vashist, and his mother, Renuka Gusain.

At W.W. Estes Elementary School, Vir competed against peers in the chess club and received group lessons from Bruce Roth. As Vir’s skill level increased, he was invited by Harris to play against older students at Koontz Intermediate, and later to compete with middle- and high-schoolers through the club at Valley Springs Middle. This put Vir up against competitors from T.C. Roberson High’s highly-capable chess team, which claimed the state team title in 2019 and 2020, and earned third place in 2021. During the pandemic, Harris has tutored Vir at home.

“I like the community. Everyone around the world plays chess,” Vir said. “It’s strategy-based, and I like strategy games.”

In a normal year, Vir’s father would have taken him to the state chess tournament, but the pandemic forced this year’s tournament to take place online. Spectators watched the live electronic matches and judges monitored players of top games through webcams.

The mechanics of the online game required players to think differently, such as when considering a move. For example, completing a move required each player to click on a piece and then on the desired square, or to drag it to the desired location. Vir found this less natural than holding a physical piece in his hand while considering his options.

Vir Datt with several chess trophies.“In a normal tournament, if you touch the piece then you have to move it, but you can move the piece around and keep holding on to it just to see if it’s better there,” he said.

Despite the change of venue, Vir took first place with with five wins and one draw. He was proud to win, but credits Harris and his father for helping him to develop as a competent player.

“I watched all of Vir's games, and I was very pleased at his last round victory clinching first place and the state title,” Harris said. “What made it even more exciting was that the victory was against the [second ranked] fifth-grader in the state.”

Despite choosing not to attend a national tournament this year, Vir plans to keep working on his game at home and learning from other players. Vir’s mother appreciates how the game gives her son a larger view of the world.

“[Chess] puts him in conversation with an international community of players,” said Gusain. “It’s diverse, and it’s a very global game right now.”

Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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