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Jacob Findley’s Rise Through Chess Ranks to State Championship

Cover graphic for featured profile on Jacob Findley
Jacob Findley holds medal that reads "2020 Colorado State Blitz Championship, K-12, 6th Place"

Since he was five years old, Loveland High School senior Jacob Findley has been fascinated by chess. As a kindergartener at Laurene Edmondson Elementary School, he started playing at home with his dad. Now — thousands of games later — Jacob has earned ninth place at the 2024 Colorado Scholastic State Chess Championship.

“My dad was self-taught, and he’s pretty good. He developed an interest and wanted to give me an opportunity to have some hobby or other, and that’s what I chose,” Jacob recalls. “Then I kept enjoying it because it’s a great game.”

Jacob, who tied for third at state this year but was awarded ninth based on scoring rules, says his love for chess has motivated him to study the game and spend countless hours learning about its endless possibilities.

“You have high-complexity games, but chess manages to out-complicate those games while still having so little in it — 64 squares, 32 pieces. Super simple, but you’re creating it,” Jacob says. “Even if you do lose against someone, you can still be happy because you created a game that’s awesome-looking … this fierce battle that tells a story, even if you have that losing moment.”

Jacob Findley’s Shift from Play to Passion

Jacob Findley holds trophy at 2020 Colorado State Scholastic Chess Championships

Jacob Findley started out playing for fun, learning the rules, and getting better with practice. By the time he was nine, Jacob realized chess was more than just a game for him and that he wanted to compete at a more serious level.

“It’s a social thing,” Jacob explains. “The tournaments are a social environment, and there are a lot of connections being made. It’s not what you’d expect.”

Jacob started out playing within the Thompson School District recreational chess system, as well as playing games online, first with Chesskid.com and later with Chess.com. Now, as a senior, Jacob has played in many tournaments, including competing in the state tournament eight times. He says he realized early on that the higher the competition level, the more complicated the game became.

“What I learned early in my elementary years, you still have to be careful when you play someone (below your level). You can get humbled pretty quickly,” Jacob says. “There’s some really devilishly good five-year-olds out there.”

Chess players who compete online or in tournaments earn a rating between 100 and 3,000. Jacob explains that ratings are determined by wins and skill level. A Master rating starts at 2,200 and a Grandmaster is over 2,500. Jacob’s rating is around 1,600 at tournaments, but is just above 2,000 on Chess.com.

“It can be really rewarding, but it can also be humbling. You see ideas that others come up with and think, I would never have come up with that. There’s a lot of rich complications with it,” he explains. “And then there’s the whole age bit. A six-year-old can beat a 70-year-old. It’s ageless.”

Exploring Chess Variants and Strategies

Jacob Findley gives a thumbs up before playing top competitor at state chess tournament

Jacob Findley says that chess, in terms of board games, has an extremely high number of variants and ways it can be played. There are around 2,000 “openings,” or sets of beginning 7-8 moves, many of which have interesting and often well-known names, such as the Queen’s Gambit or the Sicilian Defense.

“There are so many different avenues you can go through. Some people play better using an aggressive strategy versus a slow strategy. There’s also some psychology involved in it,” Jacob explains. “The rules have been known for so long, but even some of these preset rules that have been put in place forever, sometimes the best moves are the ones that break those rules.”

Jacob estimates that he has spent over 10,000 hours playing chess. He practices by using tactics such as playing with his eyes closed — a common strategy for improving chess play.

“Playing with your eyes closed helps with playing with your eyes open. When you mentally move the pieces and calculate moves, it usually ends with you thinking ahead to what looks promising,” he says. “It’s the chess equivalent of a party trick.”

Jacob’s love for the game inspired him to start a chess club at LHS, where members gather weekly to learn about and play chess. His hope is to get more students involved in the club so it can continue after he graduates this spring. Jacob hopes to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder this fall, but is still working on making definite plans. He’s sure that wherever he goes, he will continue to play online chess, though he hopes to also find a new community of chess players to join in person as well.

“It’s not something I will ever not be doing,” he says.