Chess champ

Liam Hereford of Murray demonstrates how the board appeared when he made his winning move Sunday to win the Kentucky Chess Association K-12 State Chess Championship in Paducah. Hereford was the defending middle school state champion as well.

MURRAY — The Hereford name has been synonymous with youth chess success in western Kentucky for several years. 

Josiah Hereford, now a student at Murray State University, made a big name for himself, winning multiple  championships and earning a reputation as a formidable opponent even for adults. Hereford, 2016 Kentucky Chess Association state K-12 individual champion, was so imposing that he would play as many as 20 players at a time, more often than not defeating all of them in quick fashion. 

All along, though, there has been another member of the Hereford clan building his own reputation, having taken notes from his big brother. And on Sunday, it was Liam Hereford, only a 14-year-old freshman, taking all of that knowledge and using it to etch his name in this sport’s area history by winning his first state individual K-12 state title in Paducah. 

“He has helped me a lot,” Liam said Thursday as he recalled his road with Josiah to the K-12 title that goes along with the middle school state title he claimed last year. “He’s helped me a lot over the years. Last year, when I was preparing to compete in the nationals, he and I stayed up about two hours extra until midnight to work on things I could do to win the next day. And we played, and he beat me. 

“He helped me get better, though.”

Liam was the No. 7-ranked player in Kentucky for last weekend’s state event at Paducah Tilghman High School, but he said that was perhaps deceiving. 

“There were a lot of the players who were ranked ahead of me that I knew I could beat,” he said. “In fact, I hadn’t lost to many of them at all. The reason they were ranked so far ahead of me, in many cases, is that they had earned their rating much earlier. Some of these players had achieved their rating a few years earlier. 

“The other thing is, I haven’t played in too many tournaments this year either, but in the ones I had entered, I had done pretty well. I had won the last two tournaments before state.”

Liam showed his power early, slicing through his first three opponents. That led to his fourth match with a player from Louisville who proved quite a challenge. It resulted in Liam’s only blemish of the tournament, a draw in which he appeared to have his opponent ready for checkmate (known as the finishing move in chess) only to watch those opportunities fade. 

That meant that his final match was do or die, against a very tough opponent in Liam Chesemore of Lexington. Making things more difficult was the fact that Chesemore only needed a draw to secure the title. Liam had to win the match; otherwise he would settle for second. 

So Liam resorted back to last year, when he trained with Josiah for the next day’s match. Only this time, Josiah was not around, as he had other obligations. 

“I still stayed up late the night before after we got back (to Murray) because I wanted to study a certain opening move (Chesemore) would do,” he said, noting how he had conducted reconnaissance missions of Chesemore and other opponents, studying their tendencies and trying to learn their instincts for certain situations. “Yeah, I’d walk around from table to table to see what they were doing (a practice that is within the rules). I knew, with him, I had some strange moves I had to get ready for.”

Liam was ready, though, as he and Chesemore, also a 14 -year-old freshman, traded moves early with neither getting an advantage. Then, Liam gained an edge and knew the worst he could do was a draw. After a few more moves, and with only five minutes remaining in his allotted hour-and-a-half of game time, Liam got the checkmate and the championship.

“I knew there was no way I could lose, and that’s really what I wanted from all of this,” he said. “Then I saw the chance to go ahead and get the checkmate. I won the middle school tournament last year, but this is a little bigger, I think. I’m happy with it.”

Next up for Liam will be the nationals in Wisconsin. That will be in June.

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