It was a birthday present like no other.
When Jonathan Manta turned 7 on March 4, the Howard Beach boy won the state chess championship for his age group, landing him yet another trophy to add to his ever-growing collection of accolades and securing him a spot in the upcoming national chess championship in Nashville.
“I was nervous in the first round, but then I won and wasn’t really nervous until the last round,” Jonathan said of the state championship in upstate Saratoga, during which he was pitted against nearly 100 of the state’s best chess players in kindergarten and first grade.
A first-grade student in PS 232’s gifted and talented program in Lindenwood, Jonathan first picked up chess “forever ago,” when he was 3 years old, and has gone on to win numerous awards, including recently being named the city’s chess co-champion.
Nearly dwarfed by the trophy that he received for the state competition, the 7-year-old is at ease when talking about the game that he has quickly grown to love.
“It’s great because you can win trophies and ribbons,” said Jonathan, who noted that he starts many of his games with the same move — placing the king pawn in the space known as e4 — as those of his heroes, chess champions Bobby Fisher and Paul Morphy.
A quiet and polite boy, Jonathan is not one to quickly point out how hard he works, nor how well he does, in chess, and in school in general. When pushed, Jonathan did say, “you know what’s funny?”
“Every time I take a spelling test, I get 100 percent,” he said.
“Jonathan is extremely talented,” said Milos Scekic, an international chess master originally from Serbia. “We don’t actually remember when he lost at chess.”
Jonathan and his brother, Michael, 9, who has also landed numerous chess awards, work for several hours twice a week with Scekic —but the list of extra-curricular activities doesn’t stop there.
Jonathan also plays soccer and the piano, and when relaxing likes to listen to the band Coldplay.
‘I love the songs ‘Clocks,’ ‘Fix You,’ and ‘The Scientist,’” said Jonathan, who attends weekend chess competitions in the city about twice a month.
“Because of chess, his logic is much stronger,” said Scekic. “It’s helpful with his math. Most kids who do well in chess are often leaders in their school classes.”
As for the future, Jonathan hopes to someday represent the United States in the world chess championship — and ultimately coach, like Scekic.
“I would love that,” he said smiling.