By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE - A young chess player's search for a challenge paid off big for him.
Kai Tabor, 15, started playing chess at age 3 and studied the game's play with coaches so he could improve his performance at the children's chess club at the Port Orange Regional Library. Then, at age 10, he began playing against adults at the Daytona Beach Chess Club. It's been only recently he took a chance on a greater challenge by playing in championship matches.
And he won.
Kai took home the first place trophy for his division at the 2012 Arnold Denker Florida State Championship, which was at the Daytona Beach Hilton. He said the win took him by surprise.
"I didn't know I was going to do that good," Kai said. "But I always play my best."
Tony Cipollina, who has been coaching Kai for the last nine months, said Kai won five of the six matches he participated in, with one ending in a draw, which is not considered a loss. That was enough to consider him "undefeated the whole time" of the championship.
"I had no doubt (Kai) would win," Mr. Cipollina said. A lifelong chess player who's played competitively for the last five years, Mr. Cipollina is a chess coach and promoter of local tournaments in the area.
What Kai enjoys most about chess is the game involves tactics and strategy.
"In video games I never liked just 'shoot, shoot,'" he said, "I liked puzzles where you come up with plans. And I love to win."
He and Mr. Cipollina think of chess more as a sport than a game because of the thrill of each match and the aspect of competition.
And they talk about chess like it's a sport. They casually discuss past chess matches and how the players performed like sports fans talking about a baseball or football game.
Kai said the secret to his success is keeping calm and not stressing out. He takes a break from practicing chess the day before a championship to prevent over-thinking and nervousness. One of the things he does to unwind is ride his bike around the neighborhood.
"(If I don't rest) I'll have too much stuff on my mind and I'll over-think my move," he said. "If I over-think, I'll get myself in trouble. My opponent will think I'm stressing out."
Kai said he's participated in about 20 to 30 local scholastic chess tournaments and about five championships, including one in New Orleans. His most prized trophy came from his first tournament win, a Daytona Beach Chess Club scholastic championship last year, because it got him into winning chess championships, he said.
Kai's mother, Susan Tabor, has been instrumental in supporting Kai's chess talents, from finding a chess coach to work with him and driving him to tournaments.
"We didn't want Kai to get intense in this," Ms. Tabor said. "But all of a sudden we got into traveling and entering a lot of tournaments. He's really been doing well."
Ms. Tabor said she's looking for someone who could sponsor her son in tournaments to help cover tournament and travel expenses so he could continue participating in tournaments.
Mr. Cipollina said he's training Kai for a chess scholarship from the Susan Polgar Foundation, named for the woman who helped break the gender barrier in chess. Kai said he hopes to attend Webster University in London, England.
"I would love to move there," Kai said. "It's a really good chess area."
Kai hopes he will continue participating in chess championships.
But will he see another first place trophy in his future?
"Anything could happen if I'm a really good player," Kai said.