Rowan James with his “Journey to Grandmaster” vision board behind him.

Sooke chess prodigy heading for Dubai

Eight-year-old chess player among the best in age group in Canada

In today’s world of shortened attention spans and immediate gratification, it’s impressive when one can stay focussed on an intellectual task for a few hours, never mind eight.

When Rowan James gets engrossed in a game of chess, four hours easily slip by. In fact, when he recently attended a chess training camp in Seattle, eight hours easily drifted by unnoticed.

What’s exceptional about this is not the eight-hour attention span, but the eight years. That would be how old Rowan is. Rowan is an eight-year old boy who studies chess tactics and strategies — for fun.

He’s been playing seriously since he was six. His father, local artist blacksmith Jake James, first showed Rowan how the characters move back when he was four. His older sister, Olivia, got Rowan interested in the game. These days, it’s his mother,  Miranda Aloma, who coaches him. Admittedly, she uses pre-scripted set strategies to guide her moves, since in his past two years of serious engagement Rowan has far surpassed all family members in the game. Although, Rowan confesses, Olivia can still beat him in a game of checkers.

Rowan’s passion for chess has already turned him into a national traveller. In July, he competed in Ottawa’s nation-wide 2013 Canadian Youth Chess Championship (CYCC), which went from July 10-13. There, he ranked third in his age-group (U8), qualifying him to represent Canada in the World Youth Chess Championships upcoming this December in Dubai. CYCC pairs players within their appropriate age and gender categories. Following the CYCC, Ottawa also hosted the Canadian Open which is, as the title suggests, open to all ages. With the U8 being the youngest category, Rowan ranked 147 out of 178 players. Not bad for an eight-year-old, ranked among players that include adults with years of experience in the game.

Rowan says his biggest challenge is playing a tournament game that starts at 6 p.m., because by 10 p.m., he can get pretty tired. Physically tired, though, not tired of the game. Ten o’clock is pretty late for a player with just a few months experience being eight.

Rowan has always been intrigued by spacial complexities, said his mother Miranda.

“When Rowan was a toddler, he was doing 100 piece puzzles meant for six-year-olds,” said Miranda. “He has a good spatial understanding.”

“Good” appears to be a dramatic understatement. He sometimes plays blind-folded against his sighted mother to increase the challenge. And on Mondays, he competes against adults in the Victoria Chess Club so that he can continually improve his game.

“His strength,” says his mother Miranda, “is tactics.”

Rowan ranks third in Canada in his age group, and has his sights set on an international tournament in December.

Rowan’s family of five is planning to get to Dubai in support of Rowan’s passion — and penchant — for chess. To travel those 11,853 km, which requires in excess of 15 hours airtime, Miranda has created a fundraising page at http://www.youcaring.com/chesschamp.  They are already halfway to their aspired goal.

Rowan’s ultimate objective is to become a Grandmaster in chess. He has a vision board to guide him on his journey.

In other ways, he’s just an average eight- year-old kid. He loves playing with Lego and he’s a big fan of Harry Potter and Star Wars. And when it comes to homework, Miranda sighs and laughs, she’s still having a hard time getting Rowan to write in his journal once a day.

“He’s a well-rounded child, personable, with a great sense of humour and a great sense of timing,” says Miranda.