Meet El Paso’s young international chess champion

Positively El Paso

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — It’s a game that comes down to one thing: make good moves. Now one young El Pasoan is proving that he has the winning strategy for success on the chess board.

At the El Paso Institute of Chess (EPIC), they believe strongly in the power of chess as an educational tool.

For one 11-year-old El Pasoan, the love of chess is what brought him the top prize at the Juarez chess tournament on July 6. Eric Van Zwienen won clear first in the ‘under 12’ age group category with a perfect 5/5 points. More than 20 players competed in this category for a cash prize.

“My dad inspired me to play chess,” Eric explained. “I took chess seriously when I was eight. I was pretty nervous because I didn’t know how they played or anything but after a few games I felt pretty confident of myself.”

For students at EPIC, the game of chess is less about the checkmate and more about the process.

“If a student is shy or socially awkward unsure of him or herself chess is a wonderful way to bridge that gap. You have two people that are sitting across from each other the focus is on chess. so there’s no expectation of communicating or having a conversation but as you can probably see it flows naturally anyway. It breaks down all social barriers,” Steven Van Zwienen, chess instructor and Eric’s dad said.

Students of chess are reminded about some of life’s bigger lessons, according to EPIC’s instructors. “All of your actions on the chess board all of your moves have consequences,” Steven Van Zwienen explained.

Students in the EPIC program are expected to set goals for themselves and learn humility in the game.

“Humility is important. I always teach my kids you want to be a good winner and a good loser, meaning if you win you don’t gloat and if you lose you don’t pout,” Steven Van Zwienen explained.

That’s why you won’t find 11-year-old chess champion Eric gloating anytime soon.

“Yes it looks like a lot of trophies and a lot of metals, but really its just one step at a time,” he said.

“I don’t want to stop playing because since I have a talent I don’t want to waste it. It just helps me in school, and I try to have goals for myself,” Eric said.

The students at EPIC all competed against a strong field of some of Juarez’s best chess players. Eric won 1,000 Mexican pesos — about $53 USD — for his win.

The Juarez tournament was also held the unveil a newly installed giant outdoor chess set. The tournament was organized by Juarez’s Department of Education in coordination with the City Chess League.

The El Paso Institute of Chess is a nonprofit chess organization located at 3722 Alameda Ave. For more information on how to join, e-mail them at

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