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A Northern Marianas College student, Zihan Wang, scored a perfect 5 out of 5 to finish first Saturday in the island’s first chess tournament in over 20 years.  Time control for the five-round Swiss event was 5 minutes with a 3-second delay.

In a queen pawn’s game, Wang, who had the white pieces,  launched a kingside attack with his major pieces against  his last-round opponent, Mark Nam of Saipan International School, whose king was left undefended while the other black pieces were still chopping wood in white’s denuded queenside.

The end came with Wang’s heavy artillery — rook, queen and bishop — aimed at the black king’s breached fortress as the white knight trotted in to deliver an exquisite coup de grace.


Finishing second was SIS student Frederic Guintu while Nam placed third after besting Seung Woo (Raffy) Lee of Mount Carmel School in a single-game playoff.

The rest of the top 10 players were Dexter Marzo of Marianas High School; Yun Woo Nam, SIS; Isaiah Sablan of Saipan Southern High School; Christian Castro, NMC; Towa Irinaka, MHS; and Ban Shen, MHS.

A total of 22 players participated in the event organized by MHS’ International Chess Club which is led by senior student Joseph Zhang.

“After three years of fundraising and planning, this is finally happening,” he said in his remarks before the start of the tournament which was held in the MHS cafeteria.

And then Zhang offered a piece of advice not usually heard in chess tournaments:

“Enjoy, have fun and don’t stress about it too much.”

There were no entry fees, food and refreshments were provided, and there were several MHS student volunteers from the National Honor Society, the National Speech and Debate Association and the International Chess Club who served as arbiters, Covid-19 protocol enforcers, and performed other tasks.

Teachers and parents were also among the volunteers.

Zhang said all the participants received certificates while the top three players received medals.

 Moreover, each of the top 10 participants  received a small trophy and a Joeten gift card while Wang, as the tournament winner, was also awarded a Hyatt gift certificate.

In the inter-school competition that followed,  SIS finished first with 2.5 points while MCS was second with 2 points. SIS won a trophy.


Most of the participating players consider themselves beginners, and it showed in their games, none of which indicated familiarity with opening theory.

Major pieces, including the queen, were sometimes blundered away, but the games usually continued to the bitter end.

Of the 45 games played in five rounds, only two were drawn.

The young players’ enthusiasm was evident, and many of them clearly enjoyed puzzling over the intricacies of the king of games.

The lone female participant, MHS’ Juliet Inocencia, one of the island’s well-known young Thespians, said she loves playing chess, and is looking forward to joining more tournaments.

“Overall, the tournament exceeded my expectations and went rather smoothly,” Zhang said. “Good sportsmanship was displayed, with smiles and laughs and happiness all across the boards,” he added.

As one of the players would put it, “That was fun!”