Chess Champs Together, Like It Or Not

Two young chess players get ready for a challenge. CBS

At the Texas State Chess Championship, after two days and nearly 200 competitors, it's now down to the final pairing: young Mr. Mendez and young Mr. Spada, two fourth-graders with a lot in common, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports.

When you ask them questions, the answers might surprise you.

My toughest chess competitor is:

"Him," Mendez says.

"Him," Spada says.

When I grow up, I want to be:

"A lawyer," Mendez says. "A lawyer," Spada says.

My first name is:

"Fernando," they each reply.

I live in:

"Brownsville, Texas," Menendez says.

"Brownsville, Texas," Spada says.

If I couldn't play chess I would:

"Be bored," Menendez says.

"Die!" says Spada.

They're known on the circuit simply as The Fernandos.

The kids have been arch-rivals since kindergarten. Last year they tied as national champs in their age division.

"It's a huge coincidence," Spada says.

Kind of.

See, even though Brownsville is in the second-poorest county in the nation, it's actually known for producing chess champs.

"In a lot of areas, chess is considered maybe sort of a nerdish activity, and in Brownsville chess is the cool thing to do," says Russell Harwood, the Chess Program Director at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

He says it all started in 1989 when a schoolteacher named J.J. Guajardo introduced the game to his classroom as a motivational tool. Within a couple of years, those kids had won state and soon it seemed like every kid in town was into chess.

Most especially these two, who mean business.

"Do you guys like each other?" Hartman asks.

No reply.

So they may not be on each other's speed dial, but they've sure gotten used to each other's company across the chess board.

Back at that championship, it's a familiar scene: Fernando vs. Fernando in a tense two-hour match.

In the end, it was Fernando Mendez who won — this time.

Fernando Spada was dejected, but far from bitter.

Does he ever wish the other Fernando got amnesia and forgot how to play chess?

"No, because if not, there would be no point in me playing chess. Nobody would give me any real competition," Spada said.

Plus in the end, they're both going to be winners.

The University of Texas at Brownsville has already offered them both full scholarships. Which means they're going be together for a long time to come — like it or not.
  • Christine Lagorio

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