Chess club changes Sabbath rule, lets teen pursue rating

By Jamie Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--A teenager from a Church of God family was finally able to compete in a chess tournament to qualify for an internationally recognized "rating" after a local chess club changed its rules to accommodate the young man's Sabbath-keeping.

"Chess is my only hobby," says Nathaniel Burson, 17, of Big Sandy, Texas. "I spend 12.17 percent of my life playing it."

Nathaniel recently competed in two local "over-the-board" tournaments (competitions not held over the Internet) specially rescheduled around Nathaniel's weekly Sabbath observance.

"Basically all chess tournaments are on Saturday," said Nathaniel. "I had been going to the chess club in Tyler [Texas] for several months, and the tournament director had invited me to his tournaments several times."
But Nathaniel always declined, he said, explaining to the director he couldn't participate because of his religious convictions.

Nathaniel kept attending the club on non-Sabbaths, and finally the director scheduled a competition for a Sunday in January. Nathaniel placed second in his first over-the-board tournament ever.

Even so, "I knew I could do better," he said.

Sure enough, on yet another Sunday-scheduled tournament not long afterwards, Nathaniel overcame the other players, even his tournament director, and walked away with first place.

Getting around

Nathaniel is no stranger to competing. He has participated in hundreds of tournaments over the Internet, though he says real-life and online chess games are completely different.

"You have a much higher class of player on the Internet," he said. "I routinely play people from Norway, Denmark, England, France, Russia, Singapore, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro--all over."

He also says that playing away from the computer--sitting in a new environment and looking the opponent in the face--is a "very different" experience.

"In the first game I was nervous and almost lost but managed to pull it out in the end," he said. "Also, you are allowed a half hour to move your pieces in a real-life game while Internet games give you about five minutes each."

Under the United States Chess Federation's guidelines, Nathaniel's official rating is 1,797. The average rating is about 1,500 on a scale of 600 (a novice) to 2,838 (the rating of world champion Garry Kasparov).

All in the family

"My uncle and father were both pretty good at chess, so I was taught it when I was very little," said Nathaniel. "I didn't really start to study it seriously until I was 13."

Once he began to show an interest, his uncle presented him with a chess book. Nathaniel read it and says it "kind of absorbed me. I've worked very hard on chess; I've studied 50 chess books in the last four years."
His dedication has paid off. Nathaniel now teaches chess himself, using the money he earns to buy more chess books.

"It's a vicious circle," he said.

Nathaniel claims chess helps him in many other studies and that "most of the famous chess players have doctorates in some field."

He would like one day to be skilled enough to have a "master rank," a score of 2,200.

This reporter has played Nathaniel at chess and has found it infuriating.
Nathaniel and his parents, Ed and Cindy Burson, do several types of construction, including building greenhouses. The Bursons reside on 20-some acres north of Big Sandy.

Write Nathaniel at for information about chess lessons, for which he charges $10 an hour. He gives most lessons online but has some students at Tyler Chess Club.

The Journal: News of the Churches of God is available from P.O. Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., and For more information write . To comment on this article or any other article or feature in The Journal or Connections, write . The preceding article or feature is from The Journal, April 15, 2002.

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