Port Macquarie's rising chess star Avinav Sivaraj has taken out the NSW Country Junior Championship in the under-12's division at the age of nine.
The NSW Junior Chess League tournament took place in Sydney where Avinav came from behind to eventually win the title, scoring 7.5 points.
Avinav was running third after the first half of the six-player double round robin but finished strongly in the second half to win by a one-point margin ahead of 11-year-old Marcus Wells from Woongarrah.
"I thought I was going to lose," Avinav said. "It was really tough in the first half, but I managed to just win it... it was a really nice feeling."
His mum Nisha Sivaraj said it was a nerve-racking tournament.
"He won the first two matches but lost the third and fourth one and we thought that was it, he was done," she said. "But in the second half he said he just had to keep going.
"He never looked back after that and went on to smash the remaining matches and win.
"It was amazing to see him change his strategy on the spot when he saw that he needed to, that type of quick thinking is really impressive for a kid."
Port Macquarie was well represented in the tournament, with 16-year-old Jacob Mills also winning the Country Junior Championship under-18's title.
Jacob won all five games in the finals, which were contested by six players who qualified from three preliminary heats in the north, south and west of the state. He finished two points ahead of three players who tied for second place.
While Avinav grew up playing chess socially with his parents, Nisha said he only started doing tournaments in March this year.
"He started playing chess online two years ago and at first we took his interest quite lightly," she said. "After a while he said he wanted some coaching so we put him in an online group coaching session and he picked it up very well.
"Then we saw that there was a tournament in Wollongong earlier in the year and we just went to see what it was like. He went in and smashed it.
"It was unexpected for all of us and quite a surprise from the organisers too when they saw he was beating everyone, but he gave it his all and won."
Since then, Avinav has been busy building up quite a collection of trophies, coming first and second in various competitions as he competes against players of all ages and experiences.
Avinav said he likes the challenge of chess and meeting new people at the tournaments.
"It's fun because you get to go to other places and play other people who have the same skillset as you or higher," he said.
"It's kind of challenging to win in the really big tournaments with all the other players, but it's to fun play with them."
Port Macquarie's local chess club folded a couple of years ago.
Avinav's father Sivaraj Ramalingam said the lack of a chess club in the area has made it hard for him to grow as a player.
"Prior to the tournaments he never had any over-the-board games so he missed out on a lot of those experiences," he said.
"There's a lot of physical rules in chess, like if you touch a piece then you have to make a move, but because he had only ever played competitively online he didn't know about about any of that.
"When he went to his first tournament, the organisers had to explain those rules to him before his match."
Nisha said they now travel to Laurieton once a week for him to play in a chess club but hopes to see a local one pop up in the near future.
"It's good for him to have a physical game because otherwise he only plays online at home," she said.
"If he had a chess club here where he could play face-to-face more frequently, then his experience level would skyrocket and it would give him a lot of good exposure."
Nisha said she has had a lot of parents come to her with the same experience.
"I think there is a lot of interest in Port Macquarie for a chess club but nobody is ready to come forward and make it a club yet," she said.
"Hopefully, that can change soon because I think it would attract a lot of people, old and young, who do have an interest in chess like Avi."
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