Danial Asaria feels the same as he did before the competition began. He’s a Lincoln Middle School student. He plays the French horn. He enjoys table tennis.

But after three days and seven rounds of competitive chess last month, the 8th grader earned himself the unique designation of national champion.

Asaria demonstrated his skill and will as he took the title and accompanying trophy at the U.S. Chess Federation’s national junior high championships, which were held April 15-17 in Indianapolis.

“It’s obviously pretty amazing that I somehow accomplished a great thing,” he said. “It’s not like I’m different now, but it’s pretty amazing.”

Asaria’s recent victory qualified him to compete in the World Chess Federation youth championships, which will be held in late September and early October in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, about 1,500 miles east of Moscow.

Asaria’s championship last month was highlighted by a somewhat stressful sixth-round match that lasted approximately 4 hours. The marathon game was decided by a rapid-play version during which each player was given 30 seconds total to spend on making their moves.

The pressure of an elite, in-person tournament provides a rush for Asaria, who said he often practices by playing chess online.

Asaria’s foray into the chess world began at the age of 8, when his parents signed him up for an after-school chess program at Franklin Elementary School.

“At first, I didn’t want to do it and I thought it would be boring,” he said. “But after the first class, I was hooked on it.”

Asaria has been playing chess ever since. He practices online for an hour every day, usually more on weekends. He’s learned a wide variety of opening moves to keep his foes guessing. He’s studied opponents to prepare himself for different strengths and strategies.

His father, Aziz, said chess promotes improved focus. His mother, Nasreen, said the game encourages critical thinking, independence and other skills that are applicable away from the board.

“We are so proud of Danial for his passion and dedication in reaching his goals and for setting a wonderful example for our entire community,” Santa Monica-Malibu school district Superintendent Sandra Lyon said in a news release. “Congratulations to Danial for his amazing achievement and we wish him continued luck and success.”

Asaria, who is planning to attend Santa Monica High School this fall, has experienced similar success before. His recent accomplishment in Indiana follows his outstanding performance in December, when he won a national championship at a U.S. Chess Federation tournament in Orlando. The event featured hundreds of K-12 chess players from across the country.

Asaria recently received a certificate of commendation from Mayor Tony Vazquez and Santa Monica City Council. A straight-A student, he has also done charity work for organizations in the area and served as a volunteer assistant coach at a local summer chess camp.

As for his approach to chess?

“I just try to go in with a fresh mind,” he said.