Days after brain surgery, Golden teen finishes fourth in state chess tournament

Brothers both finish in top five after playing to draw in final round

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/12/21

For Griffin and Sullivan McConnell, chess has always been a family affair. The two Golden brothers learned the game from their dad before they even started elementary school and have been playing …

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Days after brain surgery, Golden teen finishes fourth in state chess tournament

Brothers both finish in top five after playing to draw in final round

Posted

For Griffin and Sullivan McConnell, chess has always been a family affair.

The two Golden brothers learned the game from their dad before they even started elementary school and have been playing constantly ever since.

But their rivalry long ago extended beyond their living room and has come to include consistent face-offs in the state scholastic championship—where one brother was typically the only competitor standing in the way of the other's championship glory.

“It's tiring to play against each other every single year,” said Sullivan, who is 14. “And it's kind of weird because both know what we do against other people.”

After two years of not playing against each other because Griffin, 16, was now in the high school tournament while Sullivan was still in middle school, the rivalry was set to resume this year as Sullivan joined his brother in the high school tournament.

But that match-up was thrown into jeopardy when Griffin, who has dealt with epilepsy since he was six, learned that he would need to have the fourth brain surgery of his life just a little over two weeks before this year's tournament.

As the surgery approached, Griffin's father told him he would be unable to play in the tournament and Griffin, though bummed, said he understood.

But when Griffin got out of the hospital just days before the tournament, he told his parents he was feeling great and hoped to try to play. However, he still wasn't sure if he would be mentally and physically ready to compete in the event, which involves playing up to four games in a day.

So Griffin and his family decided to have him to try playing in a virtual chess tournament.

“I actually did surprisingly well,” he said.

Given that result, Griffin and his parents decided to have him give it a shot. That chance was rewarded when Griffin finished fourth in the tournament, one spot ahead of Sullivan.

“I was kind of shocked at how well I did because I was kind of there and not there and just in and out,” he said.

That was particularly true as the event went on, Griffin said. Going into the tournament, both Griffin and Sullivan adopted a strategy of trying to take breaks during and between games while also trying to finish them as quickly as possible to allow more rest time in-between.

But rest time could be hard to come by for Griffin, whose approach to chess is to get "locked in" and that all went out the window as his third game lasted two hours and left him exhausted.

“It was a very tiring two hours of my life,” he said. “It just wiped me out entirely.”

For Griffin, it turned out to be his body, not his mind, that was his biggest challenge as the tournament went on.

“For me my thinking was perfect but my stamina was kind of up and down,” he said.

Then, of course, there was the challenge of playing Sullivan in the final round of the tournament. That game, however, didn't last long as the two exhausted brothers mutually agreed to play to a quick draw.

“We finished in two minutes,” said Sullivan. “We were both exhausted and both wanted to get a draw so we just played a line that was a draw and it was a forced draw so neither side could dispute that it was going to be a draw.”

That decision to finish the game with a forced draw was particularly significant for Sullivan, who would've won the whole thing if he won the game.

But any dissapointment was more than outweighed by the joy of seeing his brother play in the tournament and ensuring he would not have to go through another difficult game after an exhausting day.

“It was fun being able to go to the tournament with Griffin because that's what we do every year,” he said. “And I was very happy that he was able to play really, really well.”

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