Checkmate for Jerabek USA Chess Champion!

While other 6-year-olds were playing Candyland or Chutes and Ladders, Alex Costello was already winning chess matches against adults. He was first introduced to the game by his dear nanny, but then quickly joined Jerabek Elementary School’s after-school chess program.

“It was hard to know if he was talented because we don’t play,” shares his mom, Molly. “Once he started winning tournaments and beating adults, we realized he had a natural gift for chess.” So by 2nd grade, Alex was winning tournaments and loving it. Admits Alex, now 10 and in 4th grade, “I would play anyway, just because I love chess, but trophies are great!”

Since he started playing, Alex has participated in more than 50 tournaments and “checkmated” his way to 169th in the world. But the most exciting news came in the mail during the summer. “Alex received a letter from the United States Chess Federation asking him to represent the USA at the World Youth Chess Championships in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December. As part of the U.S. Chess Team, he joined other kids from 8 to 18 years old who went to the UAE,” proudly explains Molly.

So in December Alex and his dad, James, took an exciting flight across the world. The World Youth Chess Championship 2013 was held in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. (Geography students might have to look that up on a globe.) Alex played against other highly ranked world chess players, ages 8–18, from countries such as India, Peru, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.

After 11 straight days of matches Alex had five wins and five losses, with one more match to determine if he’d leave with a winning record. Taking what he had learned from his losses, “never give up and always give 100%,” he finished with a sensational win! That win moved Alex up 100 rankings, making him number 69 in the world! His new rank also helped the United States claim a bronze medal.

But the bronze medal and being world-ranked is not the highlight of Alex’s young chess career. He lights up immediately when asked about his best experience at the championships. “Meeting Gary Kasparov, the best chess player on earth.” Molly translates, “Which is like meeting Michael Jordan, if you’re a basketball fan.”

Although his new ranking might be outrageously respectful to all of us, Alex is still very humble about his worldly position. While not contemplating chess moves, he likes to play soccer and baseball. He can even be found cheering on the sidelines during a softball game for his sister, Grace. Or he enjoys watching her practice on her Junior Olympic Archery Development Team. This is only fair since Grace has gone to her share of chess tournaments. “We have learned to embrace and support the things that mean the world to our kids. We are a family, and we are a team,” says Molly.

When Grace thinks about her brother’s success, “my brain gets confused and excited and I think ‘Whoah! My brother is one of the best players in the USA!’” But she laughs when she thinks what winning really means to her big brother. “If Alex wins his match, he gets his favorite reward: no bath that night.”

As for proud Mom and Dad, “When James and I see Alex come out of a tournament room after a win, glowing with pride and confidence, it is the most wonderful feeling. We will always remember his face at that moment—a cherished memory.”

We all wish Alex many bath-less nights in the future.

Jen Marchesini