Columbus Alternative High School's chess team is a bit cocky. They're not overbearing, mind you, but confident and assured, with the type of demeanor that tells people they are good.

Columbus Alternative High School's chess team is a bit cocky. They're not overbearing, mind you, but confident and assured, with the type of demeanor that tells people they are good.

And why shouldn't they be?

Earlier this month, the team rounded out what has been called "the decade of dominance." For the 10th straight year, the team has won the high school state chess championship. Most recently, the team placed 18th out of 300 at the national high school tournament.

"I remember one time we were at some tournament up in Mansfield, at this restaurant, and we heard them saying someone needs to beat CAHS," said Ben Burkholder, an 18-year-old senior who plans on attending Brown University for astronomy or astrophysics. "I like that other schools are kind of scared of us."

When it comes to these students, expel the picture of geeky, gangly kids holed up playing chess. The team takes the game seriously, and for a school with no athletics and an emphasis on academics, the chess team is something of a high- profile activity.

Or as one player put it, if they don't win, there's trouble.

This aside, what makes the team so dominating isn't up for debate; like many things, it takes time and a good hook.

"To be honest, what makes them so dominating is that they've been playing for eight or 10 years," said Keith Kaufman, the team's adviser. "And the only reason they have been playing for eight or 10 years is because there were places that had chess programs."

"The kids knew what they were doing when they walked in the door; all I had to do was keep them playing."

To accomplish this, Kaufman regularly takes the team to two national events, held outside the state.

"The hook is getting them on a plane, flying somewhere for a long weekend of playing chess, hanging out and just having a great time, but still doing something intellectual," Kaufman said.

The highest-ranked team player is Westley Russell, an 18-year-old senior, who plans to major in chemical engineering at the Ohio State University.

A four-year high school player, Russell took up the game in the fourth grade.

A self-described defensive player, he said he was drawn to the game because of strategy and math. It was a familiar sentiment shared by other players.

"There's tactics to it -- calculating things, which I really enjoy," Russell said.

Hazel Caldwell, 18, a senior planning to attend OSU to study political science, said the game has instant gratification.

"I like being able to see when you do something there is an immediate response," she said. "Even the smallest little pawn moves will have some kind of meaning later on in the game."

Still, with the road trips and swagger, sometimes even chess can come down to good old sibling rivalry.

"Partially, it's me competing with my brother, Ben," said freshman Abe Burkholder. "I've beat him like seven times throughout my lifetime. It's very fun when I can beat him."

The burden of such a legacy, however, isn't fading with the departing seniors. Last year the current juniors won the national grade-10 title.

"We will be perfectly capable of winning an 11th state title even though we have lost some of our key players," said Saptarshi Chaudhuri, a junior.

Junior Kenny Keisel put it another way: "They have us to pick up the slack."

dcross@thisweeknews.com