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9-year-old chess champ Sho Moritani credits game, PS 59 for making difference in his life


MANHATTAN (WABC) — Chess may be a competitive board game, but for some players it’s also very much about community.

A young chess player in Manhattan has used the game to navigate a new homeland and find great success.

Sho Moritani, 9, used a lot of strategy Tuesday on East 56th Street by PS 59 as he made moves to oust his coach.

Things like check and check mate come easily for the 4th-grader who’s been playing since he became a student at PS 59 in Manhattan nearly three years ago.

“Chess is part of the very fabric and culture of PS 59, it’s taught to every single student in the entire student body from Kindergarten through 5th grade,” chess teacher Russell Makofsky said.

Moritani had just moved to the U.S. and only spoke Japanese. For him, the game has allowed him to learn English, make friends and feel good.

“It was my first hobby and I was like Oh my God I really want to do this,” Moritani said.

He joined the school’s team and quickly became a force, garnering the nickname “Showtime.”

“Every time he’d win a game, every time he’d walk into a room and we’d get the whole group together, we’d say, ‘What time is it? It’s showtime!'” Makofsky said.

When schools closed last year, the chess program immediately went online.

“The kids needed this, Sho an only child, in his apartment for months on end during this pandemic that chess was important to him,” Makofsky said.

“As the coronavirus hit I feel like my play spiked to a new level,” Moritani said.

A new level indeed because this month he won the state championship for elementary school students.

And he even beat out 6th-graders.

“To win it actually I was like how did I do that,” Moritani said.

And his team also took first place.

“Being part of the PS 59 team, it feels like a great honor but it also feels like a great opportunity,” Moritani said.

“It shows community, it shows hard work is rewarded with success, it gives kids the opportunity to be great at something and great together as a community, as PS 59,” Makofsky said.

The team is now practicing for Nationals which takes place May 8.

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