Jerjis Kapra is a 14-year old, grade 9 student living in Halifax. Jerjis is currently the highest ranked youth player (under 18) in Nova Scotia as per the Chess and Math Association (CMA) and Chess Federation of Canada (CFC) ratings. The CMA also lists him in the top ten players for his grade level in Canada, as of June 2020, ranking him at number six nationally.
Jerjis has been the Provincial Chess Champion for his grade level every year from grade 1 to grade 8 except for grade 5. He has represented Nova Scotia nationally at the Canadian Chess Challenge multiple times. In addition, he is the current NSSCA Grand Prix Champion for Nova Scotia, a title he won two years in a row. He is also the co-champion of the Halifax Summer Open tournament, 2019 organized by Chess Nova Scotia.
Jerjis’ s passion for chess extends beyond improving his own game. He was instrumental in reviving his school chess club and volunteers with the chess education program at the Canada Games Centre. During the pandemic, he organized biweekly online chess tournaments that were well attended by players in Nova Scotia and beyond.
In addition, he loves sharing his skills through Chess Basics and Advanced Game Analysis videos on his You-tube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyTL0GEGjczm5wFtI7VuCZw
Besides chess, Jerjis is passionate about basketball. He also achieved the Chief Scout Award last year, an award based on completing all requirements ranging from leadership, community service to camping and outdoor survival skills.
Tell us about your journey into becoming a chess player. Was it a particular individual who inspired you or was chess something you found yourself?
I must credit my older brother, Faris, for introducing me to chess. It is an interesting story. One day when I was six years old, my dad was driving me home from a swim lesson when we stopped by at my older brother’s chess tournament. Since I was an active kid who loved running around, biking, soccer etc, my parents assumed that I would not be interested in sitting down at a chess board, so I had not learned to play. But on that day, I saw kids my age and younger playing the elusive game that up to that point I had thought only older kids played.
I particularly noticed the focused attention on my brother’s face. It seemed he was oblivious of the world around him. I wondered what it was about the game that kept him so completely immersed in it. I was fascinated. I was also surprised to see how much fun everyone seemed to be having at the tournament. I wanted to learn this mysterious game.
As soon as we got home, I pulled out our chess set and begged my mom to teach me how to play. My mom taught me the basic moves and rules and my brother and dad helped me with some tips and tricks. Within a month, I learned enough to compete in my first tournament. At that tournament, I lost most of my games but managed to get one draw. Determined to get better, I practiced hard, playing regularly with my brother and dad, and taking online lessons with my mom. The same year, I got the opportunity to represent Nova Scotia at the Canadian Chess Challenge for Grade 1. It was an amazing experience that further fueled my interest in the game. I continued to play regularly in NSSCA tournaments.
One memory that stands out is the day, when I was in grade 3, I beat my older brother twice in one tournament, first beating him in a round and then again in a tie breaker for the bronze medal. A crowd gathered to watch what my mom calls the Kapra versus Kapra game. My brother is smart and had the reputation of being a naturally good player. He is also six years older than me. It was a huge deal to beat him in a tournament. It was a turning point for me. I have always admired my older brother and look up to him. He continues to be a positive influence in my life and has taught me many things. On that day, he was proud of me for beating him in a tournament. For him, chess is just a recreational hobby. He just plays his natural game. He has never studied the game. That was the day everyone in my family realized that my interest in chess was different. I was serious about chess. By now, I was better than everyone in my family at the game. So, my dad bought me a tactics training software program with puzzles and tactics. Once I solved a problem, it would give me a harder problem to solve. After using it for a few weeks, I got frustrated and stopped practicing. However, I continued playing in tournaments and did well. While I was more serious about chess than my brother, I was not really putting the effort to reach my own full potential.
Another turning point in my chess journey was in grade 7. We were on a flight home from the Canadian Chess Challenge in Newfoundland. Over the years, I could easily win at the provincial level, but the national competition was much tougher. My performance that year was the same as my performance of other years. I had just beaten 3 provinces. But that day I felt differently. I realized that I could do better. My parents had never pushed me to practice or work hard at chess. They knew it was just one of many activities I did. That day, I told my mom that I wanted to study chess. That I wanted to improve and perform better. She asked me what I needed from her. I said I would start studying on my own with books and online resources. I worked hard for a few months. I asked my mom to sign me up for adult tournaments run by Chess Nova Scotia. I found the longer game chess was a totally different world than the shorter NSSCA tournaments. I learned a lot from the adult players. I saw myself improving. After a few months of self-study and playing in adult tournaments, I realized I needed help. So, my parents arranged for a coach for me who gave me some valuable insights into my own playing style and tips on how I can improve.
The rest is history. Over the last two years, I have improved my game tremendously. My CMA rating has gone up by around 700 points and my CFC rating is 1973, something I could not have imagined two years ago. It would have been interesting to see how I would perform this year at the national challenge but unfortunately it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Sometimes I wish I had worked harder when I was younger. I am happy to see the new generation of chess players in Nova Scotia. Many of our players in lower grades are very strong. That said, I am also just 14. I still have time to grow and a long way to go.
One thing is certain. I love chess with a passion. My dad often says that I am chess-obsessed!
What is your favorite part of chess? Creating solid pawn structures? Finding checkmates against the enemy king? Figuring out complex endgame tactics?
My favourite part is the sacrifices and attacks. Bobby Fisher once said “Sac, Sac and Mate” which means to give up pieces in order to achieve checkmate. It always feels good when your opponent still has all his pieces and you just beat him with a few of yours.
Who is your favourite chess player, and why?
My favourite chess player is Alexei Shirov. His games are very tactical, aggressive, and exciting. I love watching him dismantle his opponents’ defences and strategically take advantage of their weaknesses.
When I first started taking chess seriously, I liked the style of Paul Morphy, a 19th century American player who was born in 1837. He is known as one of the earliest grandmaster level players, although I don’t believe they had titles those days. I am impressed by his regard for material, and how he did not mind giving up a pawn to further strengthen his other pieces, a foreign concept to me at the time.
What is your favourite part about the NSSCA tournaments and events? Is it the competition? Or is it perhaps seeing your friends and socializing at tournaments?
I enjoy the variety of events we have with the NSSCA. The regular tournaments provide an opportunity to practice. The Provincial Chess Challenge is exciting as you are competing for a spot to play at the nationals. The Grand Prix events provide an extra challenge to compete for the title of Grand Prix Champion. The school team events are special because you are representing your school as a team.
My favorite NSSCA event is the year-end celebration, ChessFest, where we get a chance to play Bughouse and Simultaneous chess. It is a low pressure, relaxed event and a lot of fun.
Another great part about the NSSCA events is playing with familiar players and seeing us all improve together over time. I have made some good friends along the way. We have a lot of laughs and have created great memories together.
I am thankful to all the organizers and volunteers of NSSCA for hosting these events.
Do you have a favorite chess opening? If so, which one is your favorite and why?
My favourite chess opening is a secret, but I do love a good gambit.
How far would you like to go in chess? Do you want to become a chess master or do you see yourself simply playing casually for fun?
Of course, the end goal for serious chess players is to be the best in the world, but a realistic goal for me would be to achieve the national master title before university.
Improving at chess can be difficult! Are there any things you do at home or with others that has helped you improve your chess skills?
The main thing for me has been practice. I always make sure to set aside at least an hour a day for chess practice. It could be playing games online, doing puzzles or watching you-tube videos of my favourite players.
Lately, I have found analyzing my own games has helped me a lot. I run a you-tube channel where I share my game analysis with viewers. You can find my channel at this link:
Maintaining your physical health is important to play good chess. Normally, I alternate basketball practice with chess practice to avoid sitting too long. During the pandemic, I have kept up some healthy living habits by going for long walks, doing stretches and eating a healthy balanced diet.
How has playing the game of chess impacted other areas of your life?
Chess has been a huge part of my life. It has improved my critical thinking, logic and reasoning skills. I also developed more focus and concentration. Best of all, chess has taught me that winning and losing is part of life. Over the years, I have developed the skills to face defeat gracefully and to learn from it. I also learned that your natural talent can only take you so far.
There are no shortcuts. You must work hard. But the motivation must come from within. I apply lessons learned from chess to other aspects of my life.
Chess has also provided me an opportunity to lead. From reviving the chess club at school to teaching at chess programs, chess has empowered me to take initiative. When our NSSCA tournaments were cancelled during the pandemic, I took the lead in organizing chess tournaments online. So far, we have had 7 biweekly online tournaments with a great turnout from across Nova Scotia and beyond.
A bonus has been that I have had the opportunity to travel across Canada because of chess. So far, I have been to 7 provinces for chess tournaments.
Besides chess, what other sports or activities do you do?
l am passionate about basketball, almost as much as chess! I have been playing club basketball for a few years but this year, I played both for my school team as well as with a city club.
I also enjoy badminton, soccer, swimming and skating. I participated in camping, outdoor survival skills, citizenship and community service through the Scouts program. I have been playing trumpet with the school band for a few years, although I admit that I am not that good with music. I love helping others, especially youth and participated in the summer Halifax Youth Leadership program for two years.