4/16/2014

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14-year-old Boise chess phenom headed for UCLA

14-year-old Boise chess phenom headed for UCLA
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - The invitation Luke Harmon-Vellotti had been waiting years for finally arrived this spring; a place in the 10-person U.S. Junior Chess Championship Tournament.

The 14-year-old Boisean ranked ninth of the 10 participants and made the most of the opportunity, finishing tied for second place.

"There were two games were I was losing, and I managed to trick my opponent and win both of them," he said. "I was just hoping to do well and I did a lot better than I thought I would."

Harmon-Vellotti has played since he was 4 years old - not a surprise for the son of a former chess champion and current head of Vellotti's Chess School in Boise.

"Luke's just incredibly talented and works very hard at it," Luke's father, Daniel Vellotti, said. "He has a killer instinct."

Luke describes himself as a tactical player.

"No matter what position, I'm in I always want to go for the win."

That aggressive style is comparable to U.S. chess legend Bobby Fischer, and current U.S. No. 1 Hikaru Nakamura - who Luke calls his favorite player.

Beating dad became a regular occurrence a couple years ago, and practicing at the highest level requires a computer program.

"He studies master games and likes to learn new techniques from old games," Daniel said.

Luke also logs and reviews his own games - much the same way college and professional coaches review practice and game film.

"He never stops practicing, except for his birthday and Christmas - he takes those days off," Daniel said. "A little bit every day is how you become a very good player."

Already a 'FIDE Master,' Luke is one good tournament showing from moving up a rank to 'International Master.' He could earn that rank this week in Washington, D.C. where he'll compete in the World Open.

"I hope to become a Grand Master someday," he said. "I don't want to be a full-time chess player but one of the best in the US. But I still want to have a real job."

He's got a pretty good jump on that, too.

This fall, 15 year-old Luke will begin undergraduate study at UCLA on a full math and computer science scholarship. He also intends to help lead the Bruin chess team back to the President's Cup - the final four of American collegiate chess.
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