UVA First-Year Student Takes Down Grandmaster-Elect to Win State Chess Title

September 13, 2021 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

A board game called No Stress Chess sat on a shelf next to Monopoly and Risk and other games in Jason Morefield’s childhood home for several years – until one day, when he was 9 years old, he took it down.

The game is pretty similar to chess, with one major difference: Players choose which chess pieces to move based on a deck of cards they draw from.

Almost immediately, Morefield began beating his parents – which led to them taking him to a chess club near their home in North Chesterfield.

“I enjoyed the competition,” said Morefield, now a first-year student at the University of Virginia. “I was able to compete relatively soon after I started playing, and I also really liked the availability of information about the game. I just took to it.”

Morefield, in his words, “caught the chess bug.” He started reading every chess book he could get his hands on and played whenever he could. Competing in his first-ever tournament when he was 10, Morefield tied for first and achieved a rating of 1,050 (under 1,200 is classified as novice).

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Jason Morefield when he was a child sitting on the floor playing chess with a teddy bear
Jason Morefield started playing chess competitively when he was 9 years old. (Contributed photo)

Morefield has since continued to rise in the chess world. Over Labor Day weekend, he defeated two former state champions en route to winning the Virginia Closed State Chess Championships, contested in Glen Allen.

“Occasionally it’s possible to win a tournament when all of your main competitors play each other and you just end up playing random people and winning,” Morefield said, “so it definitely felt a lot better winning the tournament when I had to defeat my two main competitors along the way.”

A master-level player, Morefield entered the tournament with a rating of 2,337, second-best in the field. Yet he was still considered a heavy underdog, due to the fact that Praveen Balakrishnan, a grandmaster-elect with a rating of 2,616, was also participating.

In the last in-person tournament he played in prior to the pandemic, the Virginia State Scholastic Championships, Balakrishnan dealt Morefield one of the quickest losses of his career, beating him in just 19 moves.

A few months later, Morefield defeated Balakrishnan in an online match when Balakrishnan’s attempt to use the same strategy he had used in the 19-move win backfired.

Still, Morefield had doubts heading into their Labor Day weekend rematch.

“The question of, ‘Am I capable of beating him in a serious tournament game that typically lasts a couple of hours?’ was definitely still present,” Morefield said.

The answer was a resounding “yes.”

In a roughly three-hour match, Morefield obtained the winning position in 26 moves, with Balakrishnan playing on until move 44.

Still, Morefield needed at least a win and a draw in his final two matches to win the tournament – which he achieved.

“It was more relieving than anything else,” said Morefield, who has played in the tournament since 2013, with varying success. “[Winning the title] only really settled in after about an hour.”

A student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science who is planning to major in aerospace engineering, Morefield is excited to begin his collegiate playing career. Last week, he attended his first UVA Chess Club meeting. Morefield’s goal is to represent UVA at January’s Pan-American Collegiate Chess Championships in Dulles.

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During the pandemic, Morefield – who was home-schooled – created a free chess curriculum for aspiring players that is hosted by the Hampton Roads Chess Association.

The eldest of three siblings, Morefield said it’s been fun to watch chess’s growth since the release of the hit Netflix show, “The Queen’s Gambit.”

“Chess was already skyrocketing in popularity because everyone was stuck inside their house and turning to online chess, but the [show] definitely compounded that and resulted in chess websites having exponential growth in members,” Morefield said.

Count Morefield as a fan of the show. “They got pretty much everything related to the tournament chess scene in that time period very accurate,” he said.

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

Manager of Strategic Communications University of Virginia Licensing & Ventures Group