In a classroom at Hora Hora Primary School a group of students are fighting intense battles.

Kings, queens, knights and bishops are all involved.

"Matua Joseph, in chess you can't just survive with a king right?," asks eight-year-old Kelton Peters.

"You can push it to a stalemate, so if you've only got your king don't give up," teacher Joseph Tobin (aka Matua Joseph) replies.

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Tobin is behind the rising popularity of chess at the Whangārei school.

It's only been a few months since he established the chess club, but last month he took eight students - including a few who hadn't played prior to the club being established - to their first tournament ever.

They walked away with the top team award and two students placed second and third.

Since then, the number of kids attending chess club has gone from about 10 to 20.

"It's doubled after the tournament because I made quite a big deal about that in front of everybody. These guys had such success that they really deserve to be recognised," he said.

Tobin started the club at the end of term two because he wanted to get some kind of lunchtime activity up and running.

He approached principal Pat Newman and decided on chess because Newman had a big chess set and no one was using it.

"This is a game a lot of people know, there's a competitive element to it and family members know how to play. There's broad appeal," he said.

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Tobin spread the word about the chess club through the school newsletter and assemblies and soon pupils showed interest.

About half of those who turned up had never played before and the ones who had, have since improved.

"The kids that had played before had a fairly rudimentary knowledge of the rules. There moves are now more sophisticated, they think ahead rather than just one move at a time. They know a bit more about what is a good move and what is a bad move," he said.

The school's first tournament on June 14 was an interschool competition held at Whangārei Intermediate School and hosted by Chess Power.

While he said the reason for the school coming out on top was "partially because of the size of the team" he was "visibly excited".

"It was brilliant. It was so exciting that I couldn't actually stand and watch a chess game from start to finish.

"I'm mostly proud of their resilience. That tournament was really intense, it was an emotionally intense situation," he said.

Chess club runs during the lunch break on Thursdays, which is when the competition team attends, and Fridays, which is when those who have never played can head along.

He said he'd noticed the benefits of the club in other areas as well.

"Some of the kids that come up here are the ones I'd see alone out in the playground a lot of the time. I don't really see that anymore.

"Most of these kids are either with each other and they've made friends up here, or they've started making friends elsewhere."

Tobin is planning on entering the kids in another competition in term three.