NATICK ó Hundreds of normally boisterous children clustered intently around chess boards, their silence broken only by the staccato rhythm of rattling pieces and clicking time clocks.
" The kids take it so seriously, " said Peter Lee, a parent who runs the Natick Scholastic Chess Club.
The Kennedy Middle School yesterday hosted this yearís State Scholastic Team Chess Championships, where 24 Natick students competed against youngsters from across the state for trophies and bragging rights.
" The pressureís on, " said Lee, as he moved quickly to survey how his pupils were faring.
Swampscott took top honors in the high school category, but Natick teams fared well in the younger groups. Kennedy teams placed second and fifth in the junior high school division, and in the grade 6 and under age group, Johnson School placed eighth and Kennedy ninth.
Kennedy seventh-grader Nikita Konovalchuk swayed nervously yesterday afternoon, locking his knuckles behind his head as he studied his next move. He was playing on his home turf, but said he wanted to heed Leeís advice.
" Chess teaches that thereís consequences for actions, " Lee repeatedly said.
After some deliberation, Konovalchuk committed to a move and quickly tapped the time clock. Then he let out a deep sigh of relief.
He said World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov, who defeated the Deep Blue supercomputer, inspires him most.
" If he can do it, I can do it too, " he said.
He believes intuition gives humans the edge over machines.
" You need to play with emotion, " said Konovalchuk.
Kennedy student Dan Kessel said it takes heart to become a better player. He suffered a hundred losses before gaining his first victory.
" You just keep on trying, " the fifth-grader said.
Now a crafty veteran, he said he studied his mistakes.
" I moved my queen too fast, and lost all my pieces, " he said.
" The children learn how to be good sportsmen, whether they win or lose, " Lee said.
Some parents said theyíve learned how to lose gracefully to their proteges.
Matt Bailey-Adams, who attends the Johnson School, said he learned chess by playing against his father.
" My dad took it easy on me at first, and kind of let me win, " he said.
His father, Ned Bailey-Adams, said heís enjoyed watching his son improve.
" Now he takes it easy on me, " he said with a chuckle.
Sixth-grader Caleb Landis didnít make life easy for his opponents yesterday.
" You keep them thinking, " the Kennedy School student said. " You make it so that thereís more than one problem for them to solve. "
Problem-solving skills are what Lee said he hopes chess imparts to students.
" Itís an ancient game, " he said. " Itís simple. Itís my ideas against your ideas. "
He said the mental toughness required for chess prepares students for other challenges, like the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam.
Children insisted they were having fun, despite the intensity of playing against their opponents and the time clocks.
" It gives me a good thrill, " said eighth-grader Alex Lee. " It makes chess fun and my heart beats fast. "