Mike Steadman looks like a rugby lock forward but is actually the latest New Zealand chess champion.

In fact, he was a rugby player.

"Of course I was. You're never going to pick up chicks as a chess player," he laughs.

The 1.93m teetotaller was in the news soon after he was born in Wellington - for being a whopping 11 pound 2 ounce (5kg) baby.


But maybe it is the 49-year-old's aggression inherent in rugby which influenced a pugnacious approach to his chess game. That style can be problematic at times but it all came together when he defeated a Grandmaster (GM) and International Master (IM) on his way to being the top-placed Kiwi in Queenstown this week, earning him the national title and its trophy, the Silver Rook.

"I don't want to sit around for six hours and draw; better to go down in flames than on my knees," he says of his aggressive style.

Hovering well below the IM status of 2400 (world No 1 rated player GM Magnus Carlsen is just over 2800), the problem is that Steadman sometimes loses to much weaker players with this approach, affecting his chances of achieving IM status.

His solution: "I have to get some consistency around the violence."

In Queenstown, Steadman was ranked 33rd in a field of 150 international players and ended up sharing ninth place with five other players.

Being the highest-placed Kiwi in the field gave him the title of New Zealand champion.

He also won automatic entry to the chess Olympiad in Istanbul later this year.

Steadman and four other players will be housed and fed in Istanbul but they have to pay for their own flights.


This rule was also in effect for Queenstown - only "the big guns" were given the royal treatment (flights and accommodation) at the Queenstown Classic, the brainchild of New Zealand GM Murray Chandler.

But Steadman, an IT project manager, doesn't mind finding his own way around the world. His house is paid off and his only other expense is seven-year-old son Mathew, upon whom he clearly dotes.

Chess can consume the remainder of his finances and leisure time.

When he was eight, his family moved to Auckland and he watched his Te Atatu neighbours playing chess.

Steadman understood how the pieces moved, sat down to play and has never looked back.

He joined the Auckland Chess Centre at 12 and has been a member ever since. He is also the club's treasurer.

By the age of 15, he had won the New Zealand junior championships and played in the world junior championships in Norway.

After that, Steadman stopped playing chess and focused on his studies and career until he was 30.

"I was stoked," Steadman said of his national title. "I felt I did it for the club and my boy."

Does he have any personal quirks when he plays?

"If I get surprised, I get a glow [on his head], so I wear a black hat," he says.

And now that he's won the Silver Rook, his next goal is to get that IM title.