Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Don’t play chess with this guy unless you like to lose!

John Bartholomew plays a mean game. He’s now highly ranked.

A member of Saint James Lutheran Church, West Saint Paul, Minnesota, has achieved, at age 20, the exalted status of “International Master,” a lofty achievement in the world of chess.

John Bartholomew, now a student at the University of Texas, can only go one level higher — to “International Grand Master.” If he gets there, and he seems determined to do so, he’ll join an exclusive club of 300 individuals worldwide.
Chess flowed in Bartholomew’s blood as early as elementary school. He played his first chess tournament as a fourth grader. After that there was no stopping him.

Two years later, entering the same event, the Minn-esota State Elementary Chess tournament, he came out on top. That convinced his father to get a coach for his young prodigy. He found one in Burnsville, Minnesota, a chess master from the former Soviet Union.

By the time he was confirmed, at St. James Church, he was already rated “ex-pert” by the U.S. Chess Federation. By age 15 he was rated “Master.”

As an eighth grader, Bartholomew competed in the National Junior High School tournament in Kansas City, winning the event. The prize was a full-ride four-year scholarship to the University of Texas, where he’s now enrolled.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. As a high school freshman Bartholomew won the National High School Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky. He outlasted a field of 400, winning seven straight matches (no losses).

Next came competitions with adult chess players. He defeated a Grand Master competitor in a Las Vegas tournament at age 16.

In Fox Woods, Connecticut, at age 16, he competed in an annual tournament sponsored by a local casino. He faced off against the Russian Grand Master, Alexander Shabalov, who had just won the U.S. Championship. Bartholomew bested him.
Needless to say, the teen-ager’s standing in the world of chess was ratcheted up several notches because of the Fox Woods coup.

How does a youngster do it — aside from one’s natural aptitude for the game? According to Bartholomew’s pastor, the Rev. Richard Stadler, “John is a classic case study in diligence, discipline, devotion to his craft and perseverance — coupled with the encouragement of a supportive family.”

For his part, Bartholomew admits there’s a lot of psychology involved in winning at chess. There is, he indicated, a lot of room for creativity in the game. Accomplished players know the standard openings, end games and potential moves with certain pieces left on the board. What seems to distinguish the great players from the ordinary ones is the ability of a stand-out player to do what the opponent does not expect — and is not prepared to counter.

At the University of Texas Bartholomew is majoring in business. He’s on track to earn the M.B.A. degree, after which it’s hard to say where the future may lead him.
The dream of achieving “International Grand Master” still lurks in John Bartholomew’s consciousness. If it ever comes about, the folks at St. James in West Saint Paul will be able to crow, “Heck, we knew him when he was in fourth grade — winning at chess!”