Talented Bridgeport teen takes on chess champion

A Bridgeport teen who applies chess strategies to stay on the straight path got a rare chance to face off against one of the top players in the world.

“The first thing I want is to make my parents proud,” said 18-year-old Tyrell Staples-Santos.

When it comes to knowing the importance of staying in school and off the streets, Staples-Santos doesn’t just talk the talk — he walks the walk. He is also ever mindful of the disproportionate death rate among young urban men.

“Bridgeport is really a dangerous town to live in. A lot of gun violence,” he added.

But ever since Staples-Santos was a child, he said he has been thinking strategically about how to get ahead, just like he does when he plays chess, a game he has a reputation for playing very well.

“It’s just a game, but it’s preparing you for life and you don’t even know it,” Staples-Santos explained. “On the chess board, you’re trying to out-think your opponent, you’re trying to plan as many moves ahead.”

Nobody has been more impressed by Staples-Santos’ prowess as a chess player than his mentor, Dan Starbuck-Pelletier. He is the founder and head of the DIG USA Chess Program, which serves hundreds of Bridgeport’s young people.

“And I sat down to play him in front of the kids and he crushed me, and then he wanted to crush me multiple times until I realized he was now better than me by a margin,” Starbuck-Pelletier recalled.

Starbuck-Pelletier welcomed Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave for a tournament at Central High School. He is the current World Blitz Chess Champion.

Vachier-Lagrave is ranked No. 1 on Earth for being a fast chess player.

Staples-Santos got the rare privilege of playing him.

Although the world champion ended up beating the teen, Staples-Santos said he is learning so much through the ancient game of strategy.

“I’m a young teenager, I’m trying to go to college and when people hear that you’re a chess player, you know, their eyes get big,” Staples-Santos said.

Staples-Santos is working hard to build a good life for himself by staying in school and being quick on his feet. He praises Starbuck-Pelletier and the program he’s built to help kids like him beat the odds by using their smarts.

“Just getting kids up off the street and focused on something else, I feel like it’s an opportunity for them to accomplish their dreams,” Staples-Santos he added.

The chess tournament at Central High School runs through Sunday.

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