Freshman chess champion

Shimera Paxton (9) first stepped into the land of checkerboard tiles, queens and kings in 3rd grade, and she has not once looked back.

While Paxton claims chess is a game you must learn and not something a person can be naturally predisposed to, she originally became involved because her teacher at the time saw great potential in her.

“I was answering quick, I was fascinated with the pieces, and I was doing really well in class,” Paxton said.

Before enrolling at White Station, she attended Douglass K-8, a school with a successful chess program documented by several media outlets, from the Commercial Appeal to blogs like The Chess Drum. While Paxton was in middle school, Phiona Mutesi, a chess prodigy from Uganda whose life was recently turned into a film Disney’s “Queen of Katwe” came to visit the school.

“Her story was inspiring,” Paxton said. “It helped me to keep going, and to do better and to want to be maybe as good as her, if not better, one day.”

Paxton finds motivation in other places too, whether it comes from her brother Emmanuel, who is also phenomenal at chess, her supportive mother or her coaches.

“My chess teacher inspired me because he grew up in a rural area where chess wasn’t really in his everyday surroundings,” Paxton said. “He just let me know that, whatever the case may be, you can always be good at something if you try your best.”

The game was a big part of her decision to come to White Station, and it has helped her both behaviorally and academically. She was a child who got into “all types of trouble,” but chess straightened her out.

“It’s a game of discipline and strategy,” Paxton said.

Chess is complex. There are several pieces involved, and each performs its own set of actions: the pawn moves only forward and usually no more than one square at a time while the queen moves in any direction and to any length. The game requires immense planning and forethought, but to Paxton, the most challenging part is shrugging off distractions.

Her favorite part is more surprising.

“It might sound crazy, but [my favorite part] is losing because, when you lose, you learn how to win,” Paxton said. “When I lose, I learn a lesson from it. I get better and learn how to beat that person or anyone else the next time I play.”

Last year, Paxton won first place at the Susan Polgar World Open Championship in Louisville, KY, winning all of her matches but one. She loved the heavy pressure, the crowding of spectators around her board and the tense knowledge that the game could go either way. She was the only 8th grade girl competing, but she was not scared.

This victory qualified her to attend a tournament in Russia, which she had to decline in order to fit in more practice, but she hopes to qualify again this year.

“The plan is for me to continue playing chess until I graduate high school,” Paxton said.

Doing so would likely open the doors to some college scholarships, and she has considered the possibility of becoming a chess teacher farther down the road. Meanwhile, as a Freshman, she has time to branch out while also continuing to play the game she loves.