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The Nicollet Knights chess team reigns supreme at national chess tournament 

The Nicollet Knights chess team reigns supreme at national chess tournament 

The Nicollet Middle School chess team was crowned national champs in the K-8 blitz tournament of the U.S. Chess Federation National Championships held April 20-23 in Austin, Texas. This is Nicollet’s first national title.

More than 400 teams and approximately 1,250 players from across the country competed in the tournament.

Nicollet U700 team at nationals

Encountering some travel delays and arriving at the tournament just seconds before start time, the Knights, who were not among the top seeds, captivated the chess world with their stunning first place performance. Leading the way for the Knights was John Blomer, who finished in 13th place. Other scorers included Theo Diep, Emery Gehrke and Sammy Porta.

In the classical time control portion of the tournament, most of the team competed in the U700 rated division and finished second place by half a point. Scorers were Merielle Johnson, who was undefeated and finished in 3rd place, Ben Davis (4th), Sammy Porta (17th) and Minhphuong Le.   

In the U900 section, Levi Spitznagle was undefeated and finished in 5th place. In the U1100 division, Theo Diep placed 11th.

The team is coached by Brian Ribnick and Mark Burtnett.

“The team showed no fear as they faced much higher rated teams and players,” said Ribnick. “The 12 players that Nicollet entered in the blitz tournament played a total of 144 games and in each one they battled their hearts out. We walked back to our hotel rooms late Thursday night after the event with concern, as we did not have a stellar last round. However, when the final results were posted online, our shouts from down south in Texas could have been heard in Minnesota!”

District 191 has a long history of chess excellence, including multiple national and state championships for individual students and school teams. In elementary schools, chess residencies – one of the longest-running programs in the history of District 191 Community Education – take place for one week during the school day. Additionally, all schools in the district offer chess clubs through Community Education programming. 

For upcoming chess opportunities, visit the Community Education website at