For some players, making it to an international chess tournament is the end goal. For 12-year-old Annorjan "Nuj" Naguleswaran, it's just the beginning.
Annorjan, a Delaware resident and student at Shanahan Middle School in Lewis Center, traveled to the United Arab Emirates in late December for the World Youth Chess Championships. The tournament, held during the last two weeks of the year, featured more than 1,800 participants younger than 18 from 121 countries.
Annorjan finished with 5.5 points out of a possible 11 after winning four matches, drawing three and losing four in the youth under 12 division. The winner of the division, Armenia's Aram Hakobyan, scored 9.5 points.
Annorjan said winning it all would have been nice, but his goal all along was to learn from his coaches and competition.
"My friends might have expected I was going to win a gold medal," he said. "Even though I had this result, I just learned so much."
The tournament was eye-opening, Annorjan said, because he had never played in international competition before. He said while many American coaches and students look at chess in a similar way, international players can bring wildly different styles and strategies to the table.
One lesson Annorjan learned from his competition was about variety.
"In this tournament, I only played one type of opening," he said. "After this, I'm going to (use) a number of openings."
He said the opening, or initial moves of the chess game, can ultimately decide the game. Expert players study openings continuously throughout their careers.
Except for some time set aside for sightseeing, Annorjan said the whole trip was focused squarely on chess.
"It was like camp," he said. "When you wake up, you have some time you can talk with (family and friends) on Skype, but that's it."
Shortly after waking up, the players met with their countries' coaches to receive instruction before the day's matches, then entered competition. The American teammates played "fun chess" and foosball if they had free time.
Annorjan said the language barrier between participants did not matter much, because chess players remain silent after officials start the matches. Chess serves as the universal language for participants.
Annorjan said he learned about competitors from Armenia and the nation of Georgia just by watching as their games unfolded. He said if he had not made the trip to the Middle East, he would not be prepared for future international competition.
"All the coaches in the USA -- it's always the same," he said. "When you go to Georgia, they have a different teaching style. When you go to Armenia, they have a different teaching style."
When he wasn't playing against some of the most impressive young chess players in the world, Annorjan and his parents, Naguleswaran Nagappar and Dhamayanthy Naguleswaran, were viewing some of the world's most impressive architecture.
The family visited the city of Dubai to see the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at 2,717 feet.
Annorjan said many of the surrounding buildings also are skyscrapers, dwarfing the buildings in downtown Columbus.
"Right now, (Columbus' skyscrapers) look like miniature, small buildings," he said.
Annorjan said it will take a little while to adjust to being back home, but his busy extracurricular schedule won't give him too much time.
Annorjan's robotics team competes Saturday, Jan. 11, for a chance to go to the state tournament. He also competes on the school's cross country and Power of the Pen teams.
Annorjan said he'll fit chess practice in between his studies, which he said come first, and his other extracurriculars. His goals for 2014 include an improved performance at the next World Youth Chess Championships in September in Durbin, South Africa.
He said maybe the most important thing he learned overseas is that his development as a chess player is just beginning. Instead of being frustrated by the experience, he said he was grateful for the chance to learn.
"I have a long way to go," he said. "Chess is not an open book."