Friday, June 9, 2017

"Baltimore's Famous National Chess Champion Isn't A National Chess Champion"

The biggest chess story of the year is uplifting—and bogus.

On May 31, the Baltimore Sun ran a feature on a seventh-grader whom the paper identified in the headline as a “national chess champion.” According to the Sun’s story, the 12-year-old learned to play the millennia-old board game in a local barbershop and, while representing Roland Park Elementary and Middle School, a K-8 public school in the city system, came back from a Tennessee tournament earlier in the month as “Baltimore’s first national chess champion.”


The Sun ran at least two more pieces on the 12-year-old, always identifying him as a national chess titlist. The Washington Post ran the Sun’s story on its site the same day.


The tale of how reality got checkmated by fiction in Baltimore is not nearly as cinema-ready or heartwarming as the story the Sun told. After well-meaning, chess-na├»ve grownups turned an unwitting kid into a media star by making him out to be something he wasn’t, nobody who knew the real score—including the news outlets who were told the facts after the fake news about a national champion broke, and chess officials who knew the whole truth the whole time—was willing or able to stop the story’s spread.