Teacher, chess master spreads love of game among Gateway students

Damian Nash

Utah’s reigning state chess champion has brought a love of the sport to Gateway School, where he teaches.

Moab resident Damian Nash, who lives in Gateway during the school week, began teaching math, science, physical education and media at the 51-student school this past fall. Within months, he corralled about 20 students to participate in Gateway’s first organized after-school chess club.

Nash organized the club’s first tournament recently with students from Gateway and Delta, and he plans to take about 13 students and another faculty member to a Colorado state chess tournament next month in Denver.

He believes he may have some future state champions among his club members.

“If there’s enough momentum, maybe we’ll even have a state championship team. I’ve done it before in Moab and Durango,” Nash said, naming other towns where he has taught school and coached chess players.

He earned his own Colorado state championship team title as a senior at Boulder High School. But Nash, 47, had yet to win an individual state championship title until November, when he won the Utah Closed Championship, so-called because it is open only to chess players of a certain skill level. Nash’s skill level is rated candidate master by United States Chess Federation standards, a ranking only surpassed by master, international master, grand master, and the new, rare title of super grand master.

Nash’s grandfather taught him how to play chess at age 6, but his love for the game really flourished during his freshman year of high school. He was crowned chess champion for the city of Boulder right after he graduated high school, and has kept fluid in the game as an adult by playing regularly with friends in Moab and elsewhere in the region and participating in some tournaments.

He decided to compete in the Utah championship somewhat on a whim. He had played against a now-12-year-old chess prodigy two years ago and was so impressed he stayed in touch with the boy, Kayden Troff of Salt Lake City, and his family, and wanted to come to the tournament to help with a party for Troff following the boy’s second-place finish at a tournament in Greece. He was also driving a chess sparring partner from Moab to the tournament and decided, while there, why not play in the tournament himself?

Both Troff and Nash’s friend from Moab were eliminated before Nash could play them in the four-round tournament. He credits his championship to smart playing as well as help from a nap and some yoga between games.

“I was feeling refreshed and my opponent had finished two brutally long games,” Nash said. “He finally made a couple mistakes after 35 moves.”

The rest of the game belonged to Nash, who plans to defend his title again next year. In the near-term, he hopes to compete in Colorado’s state championship in March, something he’s now eligible for after living part-time in Gateway. Chess players at a certain level can play in the tournament only if they’ve lived in Colorado for at least six months.

Anyone hoping to get to Nash’s skill level needs two things.

“You need the ability to calculate quickly, plus the sum total of experience,” he said.


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