Justin Turner (left) playing his first chess tournament in New Zealand in 2014.
Justin Turner (left) playing his first chess tournament in New Zealand in 2014.

Rocky chess whiz takes on 49 players in Spanish contest

A former dux of The Cathedral College is one of only two international players competing in the Valencia Open Chess Tournament in Spain.

Justin Turner has had two wins, two draws and two losses in the six games he has played so far at the event, which started on December 26 and runs to December 30.

Based on International Chess Federation rankings, he is ranked 38th of the 50 entrants.

Justin will play a total of 10 games at the tournament, which is in the standard format of long games, with a minimum of 90 minutes plus 30 seconds for each move made.

He said the games were draining, with two of them lasting four hours.

“Having to back up in the afternoon after a long match, especially if I have lost, is mentally and emotionally a huge challenge,” he said.

“My results in the last four games have been good for me, but the loss in the first match - of three and a half hours - was probably my best game as I was beating a player ranked at 1900 until I found myself short of time.

“Even in the second match, which went four hours, I had my chances. I think I would have taken them if I was fresh, but they occurred about two hours in, so I was drained and not thinking clearly.

“But I’ve been managing my time much better since that first day.”

Justin Turner with dad Gary at a relative's wedding in Sicily in 2017.
Justin Turner with dad Gary at a relative's wedding in Sicily in 2017.

Justin’s father Gary, who taught at Rockhampton Girls Grammar School and is now Head of Science at Xavier Catholic College in Hervey Bay, said it was a wonderful experience for his son.

He said Justin rekindled his interest in chess while he was locked down in Spain due to COVID.

Justin was dux of TCC in 2011. He completed his engineering degree at the University of Queensland, which is where he initially found his way back to chess which Gary had introduced him to when he was just six.

He joined a chess club and played his first tournament in New Zealand in 2014 but the demands of study meant he put the avocation aside.

Upon achieving first-class honours, he started work as a civil engineer in Brisbane but soon decided to gain qualifications to teach English as a second language.

He jetted to Italy in the middle of 2019, intent on improving his fluency in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese while working.

First stop was Sicily and then Milan but on hearing it would be easier in Spain to gain the documentation needed to start teaching, he travelled to Valencia – one day before Spain went into lockdown.

Justin Turner in Colombia in the Andes where he is teaching English after working as a civil engineer in Brisbane.
Justin Turner in Colombia in the Andes where he is teaching English after working as a civil engineer in Brisbane.

Gary said Justin then had the time to channel his energies back into chess, which is treated as an elite level sport in Spain.

“He’s essentially been able to make up time in learning during the lockdown, but he’s also been able to meet the senior players from the region, including a number of grand masters who turned up at the previous competition,” Gary said.

“One of those was organising a local conference that he was indirectly invited to. That turned out to be a conference of school principals who are interested in making chess an extracurricula activity so moving forward to next year, when he might have his working papers, he has made some extra contacts who might possibly find some work for him.”

Justin Turner was dux of The Cathedral College in 2011.
Justin Turner was dux of The Cathedral College in 2011.

Gary said Justin was still learning the reality of facing real opponents across a chess board in a competition rather than playing “online”.

He found initially that in a live match he focused on the opponent’s pieces and likely moves more than on his own, whereas playing online on a schematic board he concentrated on his own position.

The proud dad eagerly checks the results on the tournament website at the end of each day’s play.

“Justin credits me with teaching him way back when he was six but he also blames me for not impressing upon him how important this game is or how it could become an international career,” Gary said.