You may know Hawaii as a globally renowned holiday destination with exotic beaches, friendly locals, and active volcanoes. What you may not know is that beneath all its famous attributes, Hawaii is a lively hub for chess competitions and tournaments, which occur annually and sometimes more frequently.
The Hawaii Chess Federation (HCF) is the top chess organization dedicated to promoting chess, enrolling players, and hosting USCF-rated tournaments in the state. Commissioned in 2005, the non-profit organization serving as the Hawaii state affiliate to the United States Chess Federation (USCF) is run by a nominated board of directors.
The HCF is the state’s most prominent advocate for using chess to train intellectual and thinking skills. It oversees chess events in the state, and its duties include sponsoring tournaments and matches. Moreover, the Federation conducts the training and education needed for the intellectual development of both adult and child players. To grow the chess community, the Federation conducts outreach programs in schools and community organizations to increase interest in the game.
As you can imagine, chess is a thriving activity in the ‘Aloha’ state. There are endless ways to get involved, even starting with zero experience. This article is the guide you need to get started, so read it until the end.
The History of Chess in Hawaii
One of the most memorable tournaments held in Hawaii was the 1994 – 1996 Hawaii International held in Oahu. It was heavily attended but not as well-documented as the state’s recent chess tournaments.
The latest major chess tournament that took place in the tropical islands was in 2018, right after the US Open in Kona. Active chess players in the state blame the lack of resources to sponsor more tournaments as the main reason that big tournaments are not as frequent as they used to be.
That being said, Hawaii is still home to a growing chess population. There is still a great deal of interest in the game, especially since many small clubs still hold regular blitz matches in various spots around the Big Island.
Konane – The Hawaiian Board Game
Although it is not clear when the first chess game in Hawaii was played, Hawaiians are believed to have invented a chess-like game known as kõnane.
It is believed that kõnane was the first chess like game in Hawaii, supposedly invented by the ancient Hawaii Polynesians. Much like the current chess game, it was played on a rectangular board and required skill and intellect to play.
Chess Players in Hawaii
Even though the Islands are tiny compared to the US continent, Hawaii’s chess community is anything but. The beautiful island is home to hundreds of active scholastic and USCF-rated chess players.
The tropical holiday destination has produced its fair share of great players over the years. Although none of them has achieved the title of grandmaster yet, their performance is excellent, even by global standards.
Cornelius Rubsamen, with a published rating of 2266, is the highest-rated chess player in Hawaii. He has acquired the National Master and FIDE Candidate Master accolades during his decorated chess career. The 50-year-old is currently a FIDE instructor and trainer.
He is followed closely by Eldon Masao Nakagawa, another FIDE Candidate Master with a respectable rating of 2204. Other notable players are Scott Kira, Devin Erin Eagan, and Likeke Aipa, among others, who are all rated as Experts and Class A Players.
At the mere age of 12, Mark Chen began his reign as Hawaii’s youngest State Champion in the state’s history. He won the U1500 Division during the 2020 Nationals and earned a 4,000 USD cash prize. He is rated as a Class B Player USCF player and boasts a high blitz rating as well.
The current state champion is Michael Omori, who won in the 2021 Open, and the latest to join the rank of Candidate Master in Hawaii Is Gabriel White, who tied for third place in the National Blitz Tournament, which earned him a USCF rating of over 2000. This makes him the fourth-best player in the state.
Chess Setting in Hawaii
Like the population, the chess setting in Hawaii is a diverse one. It features a combination of professional events and a blossoming informal chess community that gathers at various public settings every so often to play blitz chess.
Everyone with interest in chess is welcome to join. However, if you’re looking to train yourself in formal chess, you’ll have to become a FIDE-rated player like anybody else. Street chess tends to have much looser rules and guidelines, making it more suitable for hobbyists.
The support for chess players and infrastructure in Hawaii is reasonable, but in the past, it was immense. Nowadays, players keep the game alive by forming chess clubs and frequently meeting to challenge each other.
If you’re nervous about being a beginner, you can sit and watch any informal game with the players’ permission. Learning on the go is an effective way to master various chess techniques, so it makes sense to rate Hawaii as a beginner-friendly chess state.
Chess Tournaments in Hawaii
More than just a fun place to learn chess, Hawaii is a proper chess state because it offers high-profile USCF-rated tournaments annually to its chess community. If you’re interested in climbing the ranks and becoming a professional chess player, here’s where to look for opportunities:
Hawaii State Open & Blitz Championship
This event occurs annually between September 5th and 7th. It is open to chess players of all levels and experience.
This is the next best thing if you don’t qualify for a scholastic chess event. The State Open is highly-contested, richly rewarding, and a very fulfilling accomplishment for the average chess player. You can compete with FIDE-rated players for first place or use the competition to level up your rankings by beating higher-rated players.
In any case, this tournament is as official as chess tournaments get in Hawaii.
Hawaii Open Chess Tournament
This is the oldest annual chess tournament in Hawaii. This year it will be held at Ilalo Street, Honolulu. The tournament will have two sections: Reserve (U1500) and Open. The entry fee is 80$ per player, and first place comes with a 2,000USD cash prize. You can register online or in person up to 30 minutes before the game.
The Hawaii Scholastic Chess Tournament
If you are young or want your kids to learn and compete in chess, this tournament is made specifically for you. On average, there are about nine major scholastic chess tournaments held annually. They accommodate kids of all ages, starting from kindergarten and going up to high school.
The Hawaii Phoenix Chess Tournament
These are monthly tournaments held at the Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani Middle school cafeteria. Students in grades K – 12 are allowed to play after paying the required entry fee of $35.
The last Hawaii Phoenix Tournament, the ninth since the tournament was established, took place in September when NM Paul Ilnuma won the tournament with an impressive score of 5-0-0.
Wahiawa King Kamehama Chess Tournament
This is the only official chess tournament in Hawaii to use the four-round system from Switzerland. It takes place in June (typically from the 12th to the 13th of the month) at the Public Library in Wahiawa from 9 am to 5 pm.
Chess Clubs in Hawaii
If you’re interested in joining a chess community, your options are abundant in Hawaii. Chess clubs here welcome all players, so you’ll fit right in regardless of your skill level. These clubs include:
Managed by the Hawaii chess federation, this club is open to all K-12 students in Hawaii. Every young chess player is invited to play and learn from coaches and mentors that help sharpen their skills. With over 165 active members present, this club is a great way to meet chess players in Hawaii.
Hawaii Chess Club
This local club is available to Hawaii residents, frequent visitors, and part-time residents of the great Aloha State. The club offers well-structured tournaments and organizes chess games and activities throughout the state. Members also hold online matches daily, which is a great way to practice from wherever you are.
Team Hawaii Chess Club
This club is available to Hawaiian residents or part-time residents who want to participate in chess matches with country and state teams.
Club members meet every Thursday from 3-5 pm at the Wahiawa Public Library. You can get a free hour-long lesson for the first hour and then play during the second hour. This is perfect for beginners that want to learn and polish their skills.
Chess Shops in Hawaii
Hawaii has some excellent chess shops where you can get all the necessary equipment to help you get better at the game. If you’re looking for your first rig, head over to any of the following shops:
The Armchair Adventurer Chess Shop – Honolulu
This is a one-stop shop in Honolulu for all your chess needs. The shop carries everything you need as a newbie to start your journey in the chess game, whether that be a decent board, chess guides, or professional equipment like a chess clock. You’ll find chess boards in all kinds of designs available here, not to mention 3D and even 4D chess boards for those with advanced skills.
This shop is a great place to practice your skills. It is also a great place to meet and play with new people on the open play tables, where players are encouraged to try out their new games. In terms of community, this club is tightly knit and extremely active.
They even have a Discord channel where you can meet like-minded players. Whilst primarily a fantasy table top (Dungeons & Dragons etc) establishment. They also cater for the more traditional games like chess too.
We have lots of guides available to help you out here.