Moab’s Harold Stevens wins Utah State Chess Championship
by William Barfuss
special to The Times-Independent
Dec 26, 2012 | 2641 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Harold Stevens of Moab celebrates after winning the 2012 Utah State Chess Championship. Courtesy photo
Harold Stevens of Moab celebrates after winning the 2012 Utah State Chess Championship. Courtesy photo
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For the third year in a row, a resident of Moab has won the Utah Chess Championship. But this year it wasn’t long-time Moab resident Damian Nash, who won the title in both 2010 and 2011. Rather, the championship was won by Harold Stevens, Nash’s friend and local chess rival.

They competed for the title Dec. 7-9 on the University of Utah campus along with 15 other high-ranking players in the Utah closed tournament. Stevens won his first four games and drew his fifth game to earn 4.5 points, placing him clearly in the top spot. Nash was knocked out of contention early, losing his first two games and ending up with 2.5 points to finish in seventh place.

Stevens, who is in his early 50s, faced some tough competition, often coming from much younger players. His most difficult game was in the third round against 18-year-old chess-prodigy Alex Gustafson. The game was a long drawn-out battle of will and stamina, but Stevens persevered and was finally able to force Gustafson to resign.

In the fourth round, Stevens faced the only competitor who handed him a loss in last year’s tournament – 2011 Utah co-champion David Vasquez. Determined to win this year, Stevens played a forceful game and beat Vasquez convincingly. Under pressure, Vasquez blundered fairly early in the game, which only lasted for 22 moves.

Stevens only needed to avoid a loss in the fifth round against 21-year-old Bryan Leano to win the championship. Stevens offered a draw early in the game, which Leano accepted. “It would have been nice to have five wins, but it wasn’t worth the risk,” said Stevens.

Nash agrees, and said he believes Stevens has learned from his past mistakes. After Stevens declined a draw offer from Vasquez in the last round in 2011, he went on to lose the game, and the title.

“Harold and I should have been state co-champions last year,” said Nash.

The achievement of two Moab residents winning the championship three years in a row is significant, especially considering that the vast majority of expert chess players and clubs are in the Salt Lake City metro area. The two Moab men were able to accomplish the feat by helping each other rise to the top. Nash had little local competition before he met Stevens in 2009 and they began playing each other frequently.

“A friendship was born out of the fact that I was getting clobbered by a better player on a regular basis,” said Nash. “I was very lucky to have Harold move to town when he did because it coincided with the year I took off from work to study chess, and so I was able to play Harold many times a week. That combination is what I owe my own rise in ability to.”

Stevens was also able to hone his chess skills by playing Nash, and the two traveled together to many tournaments in the Southwest, partly to help Stevens gain some experience playing in competitions.

Nash said he is somewhat disappointed by not being able to win the championship again, but the fact that Stevens won made attending the tournament worth it.

“I am very proud of his accomplishment,” said Nash.

As for Stevens, he said he is very happy to have won and thinks it has been a long time in coming.

“I finally got the job done,” he said.

Along with a $150 prize, Stevens won the championship trophy, which is on display at the Wake and Bake Cafe in downtown Moab, where Stevens and Nash have often met to play and analyze their chess games.

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