All the right moves

  • Photo courtesy Beau Mueller

    Three co-champions in the Hawaii Open chess tournament were, from left, Cornelius Rubsamen, Damian Nash and Michael Omori. All of them finished the five-round tournament undefeated with three wins and two draws.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Damian Nash chats with Kauai High student TaKeshi Komar at the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club about his final game and winning moves in the annual Hawaii Open chess tournament on Oahu.

Chess, for most people, is likely seen as a quiet, boring, maddening game of strategy that involves moving pieces slowly around a checkered board.

But Damian Nash sees it differently.

He sees each contest as more of an adventure, a clash of titans.

“It’s an eight by eight universe in which two people co-tell a story,” he said. “There’s always drama. It’s like you’re co-authoring a story by trading lines.”

And no two games are ever the same. One could be a bruising battle of knights. The next, a fearless attack on the queen. And the next, a castle under siege.

Until finally, the king falls.

That’s chess as Damian Nash sees it. That’s why he plays it with passion. It’s a game, yes, but it’s something much more.

“I love the way it brings people together and it teaches people to be fierce warriors over the board and then good friends when the game is over,” he said.

Nash, a technology teacher at Kauai High School, also happens to be pretty good at chess. In fact, he’s among the best in the state.

In the annual Hawaii Open chess tournament on Labor Day weekend at the Kapiolani Medical Center conference rooms, Nash was one of the three co-champions in a field of 44 players. He was joined by Cornelius Rubsamen, Hawaii’s only active chess master and a full-time Honolulu chess teacher, and chess expert Michael Omori, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii.

All three finished the five-round tournament undefeated with three wins and two draws.

This was Nash’s sixth time competing in the tournament and his highest finish.

Winning, he said, felt “awesome.”

“It actually represents for me three or four years of hard work,” he said.

Nash said it helped that Paul Iinuma, who defeated him twice in years past, wasn’t there.

Iinuma, Nash added, played in the state Blitz Chess Championships on the afternoon of Sept. 3 after the main tournament and won convincingly with a record of 12 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw.

“So I didn’t have to face my nemesis this year,” he said, smiling. “But I faced some other strong players instead and had my best result.”

Nash recreated the position of pieces in the final game of this year’s tournament and explained that he saw, several moves a way, that he had a winning position — regardless of what his opponent did.

“Now the game is over, at this point, there’s a forced checkmate in here,” he said.

Chess has been part of his life for 40 years.

While he enjoyed competition in high school and was good at baseball and other sports, he liked chess and saw it as something he could enjoy and play well as he got older.

“In other sports, you slow down,” he said. “In chess, you can keep going.”

He lived in Utah about 20 years, competed often and studied different strategies, from the opening game to the middle game to the end game. He traveled for tournaments and later was a two-time state chess champion.

“I’ve worked very hard for it,” he said.

He still does.

On average, over the past two years, he estimates he studied chess about two hours a day.

“I’m attempting to maintain my peak form,” he said. “I’m not there anymore.”

Lately, he’s been an adviser to Kauai High student TaKeshi Komar, who is forming a chess club at the school. So far about 25 students have shown interest.

“Hopefully, this is away of calling attention to chess on the island,” said Nash, a 26-year teacher with six of those on Kauai.

Komar said he played chess when he was younger and living on Oahu, then left it behind. Last summer, he picked it up again.

“I started playing every day online for hours, I just got lost it in,” he said.

He said there aren’t many chess resources on Kauai, and he wants to create an environment where chess players can get together to compete, learn and grow.

Komar smiles when asked how good he is at chess.

“I haven’t found a classmate who could beat me,” he said.

Nash nodded in agreement.

“Let’s put it this way, I have to take him very seriously and I’m the state champion,” he said.

Chess is a sport for all ages, all people, Nash said. The annual Chess Olympiad, this year set for Sept. 23 to Oct. 6 in Batumi, Georgia, will include players from about 175 countries.

“It’s about as close as we have to a universal sport,” he said.

Nash, who also runs chess tournaments, said the game is good for thinking and social skills. And yes, it’s good for problem-solving, too.

“It’s like a gigantic riddle,” he said.

Nash hopes to organize more chess tournaments and offer private lessons on Kauai. He would love to see more chess boards being set up, more people understanding the satisfaction that comes with “checkmate.”

In the 1993 movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” based on the life of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, he is urged by one of his teachers in the final game, “Don’t move until you see it.”

The greater players don’t just see one or two moves ahead, but 10, 15 or 20. They find not just the good moves, but the best moves, time and time again.

Nash said the most moves he has ever seen ahead was 13.

At the Hawaii Open, he saw checkmate in five moves. That was enough.


  1. Dude September 18, 2018 1:13 pm Reply

    Finally an article to encourage Chess on our Island! Let’s get a club going for all ages. I’m in Haena and would luv to get a club going at the Hanalei Community Center. I play a lot of tournaments on the mainland and understand the benefits for both young and old. Hopefully Damian can help with that in Lihue. Seen Cornelius at several big tournaments in Vegas and am sure he will lend support too. Let’s start a conversation now about this!

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