Indian American Chess King Captures Oklahoma’s Imagination


MOORE, Okla. — Joe Veal, who spent a recent afternoon teaching chess to children at a recreation center near Moore, admits the game’s reputation as a stodgy pastime for geeks and nerds.

Perception is changing.

Popular culture has something to do with that. Take the life-sized, high-stakes chess match that figured prominently in the first Harry Potter book and movie, the McAlester News-Capital reported.

Hollywood has embraced the game, as well. A movie called “Pawn Sacrifice,” starring Tobey Maguire and due out in September, tells the story of perhaps the most famous U.S. chess player, Bobby Fischer.

In Oklahoma, interest is mostly due to an Indian American 12-year-old boy from Midwest City.

Advait Patel is to chess what Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar, said Veal. Youth who meet him realize that through hard work, they, too, might achieve the same success. He’s re-energizing the sport.

“They think chess goes beyond the typical stereotypes of chess being a game for social oddities,” said Veal, a member of the board of the Oklahoma State Chess Association who is known as the “walking encyclopedia” of all-things-chess in the state.

“He was a gift (to Oklahoma),” said Veal. “The interest in the sport, I think, has risen a lot in the last two years. I think, in all honesty, the golden age of chess has spread to Oklahoma. What we try to do is make the golden era continue on through our efforts.”

Advait, who is turning 13, may be a chess ambassador. He’s also good.

He is the state’s reigning, two-time champion. At this point, he’s given up youth competitions in the state, choosing instead to test his mettle against men and women more than three times his age.

Veal — who, by the way, is 0-6 in tournament matches against Advait — said he’s never seen anything like it.

In practice rounds, Veal, 38, of Oklahoma City, who is ranked 18th in the state, said he’s beaten the boy just two times out of 100. In both cases, Advait demanded an immediate rematch and recaptured victory.

Advait’s skill and wit also stand out nationally. The rising ninth-grader is ranked No. 2 in the country in the 12 and under division. Last he checked, which wasn’t recently, he was No. 60 in the 14 and under division.

Advait said he’s attracted to the complexity of chess.

“You have to use the mind,” he said. “I guess I’m pretty good at that — strategy.”

Advait learned the game at age 7 from his grandfather in India. A year later, he felt confident enough to play in his first tournament in West Virginia.

“I lost all my games,” he said. “That’s OK. I found my chess coach there.”

Last year, Advait’s family relocated from West Virginia to Midwest City. They are in the process of opening a restaurant.

At the state tournament this year, Advait won all five of his games against a sheepish field of Oklahoma adults.

He’ll soon head to Phoenix to compete in the national Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions. He’ll defend a first-place finish from last year.

Advait has a greater ambition than winning youth championships. He dreams of becoming a grandmaster, defeating any and all opponents on the world stage.

He spends eight hours a day practicing and training for that day. With any leftover time, he swims and plays cricket.

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