(720) 504-8765 info@palschess.com




Get to know our amazing team of chess coaches!



Griffin McConnell is a National Master and a three-time Colorado State Chess Champion who has been teaching chess since he was 12. He has taught chess at The Challenge School, The Manning School and developed a chess club for children with disabilities at both The Havern School and Reach Charter School. In 2019, Griffin was invited to participate in the Confederation Cup for People with Disabilities in Ankara, Turkey.  He was the only player to win all of his matches and was awarded the Brilliancy Prize by the tournament organizers for playing the most brilliant game of the entire tournament, sacricing his queen to win against Germany’s Jarno Scheffner (a higher ranked opponent). In 2021, Griffin launched ChessAbilities Inc., a non-profit entity dedicated to helping promote chess and chess opportunities for children with disabilities. In 2022, ChessAbilities hosted the 1st North American Chess Camp for children with disabilities.

Griffin’s inspirational story was  featured in a short documentary (Griffin’s Gambit), produced by Chess.com. He is currently ranked as the top player on Team USA for People with Disabilities.  He continues working with PALS founder Lior Lapid, who captains the team and coached Griffin from 2018-2022.  Griffin was among the honored recipients of the 2021 Outstanding Team Achievement Award from the United States Chess Federation for Team USA’s outstanding success (and Griffin’s star performance) in the 2020 Chess Olympiad for People with Disabilities.


Private Lessons

Griffin is available for private and small group lessons via zoom. To set up private lessons, please email us at info@palschess.com 


Sullivan McConnell is a National Master, Life Master and seven-time Colorado State Chess Champion who started chess coaching when he was 10. Sullivan taught the most advanced level children for the Challenge School and was the youngest coach ever hired by the school. Sullivan became a National Master at 12 and at the age of 13, tied with International Master Michael Mulyar, as the youngest Colorado State Closed Champion in Colorado history (defeating his coach, PALS founder and National Master Lior Lapid, in the very first round!).  A rising star who has already achieved an impressive (and still climbing!) rating above 2300, Sullivan is currently the second highest rated player in Colorado and is ranked #9 in the country for his age.

Private Lessons

Sullivan is available for private and small group lessons via zoom. To set up private lessons, please email us at info@palschess.com 

Ken Hyman

Ken Hyman’s enjoyment of playing chess started in college, and after. For a number of years he didn’t play, but during COVID, he started playing online. Now he plays twice a week at coffee shops.

He looks forward to sharing his knowledge of the game!
Chris Juris

In addition to coaching hundreds of students with Pals Chess, Chris Juris is a jazz musician and music instructor residing in Parker. Chris started playing guitar at age 14, and four years later was awarded a full tuition scholarship to Berklee College of Music. Prior to his college education, while a student at the Boston Arts Academy (a high school for the performing arts), Chris was awarded “Most Outstanding Musician” at the 2009 Berklee High School Jazz Festival, performed as a featured soloist with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall (Fidelity Futurestage Competition winner), participated in All-State Jazz Band, and was awarded gold medal for jazz trio by the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education.

In 2014, Chris graduated with a dual degree in Composition and Performance. During his studies, Chris held a weekly residency at the historic Wally’s Jazz Club, where he led his quartet for over one year.

In 2020 during the Covid lockdown, Chris rediscovered his love for the game of chess. His grandfather, Friedrich taught him the game – and was soon challenging family members and friends at school. Chess and Music have many similarities. Call and response. Endless variations to be explored. At any time you may make a mistake! Both are fun to learn and play at any level. Let’s play!

Sarah Hartmann

Sarah grew up in Georgia and graduated with a degree in Interior Design. Teaching and traveling have always been passions of Sarah’s, so she taught abroad in South Korea and Thailand. She learned how to play chess in elementary school and is excited to teach and watch students grow an appreciation for the game and learn the additional skills it provides!

Juan Vargas

Juan is from Bogota, Colombia and started playing chess when he was around 7 years old — it’s always been one of his favorite games ever since. He’s currently studying Nutrition at MSU Denver, and plans to get both his Bachelors and Masters degrees. He is a big sports fan, loves to both watch and play. He enjoys challenging himself and is constantly looking for ways to grow as an individual. Juan is excited for the opportunity to share his knowledge of chess and keep learning at the same time.

Amy Buchalter

Amy is a new coach to PALS this year. She has 8 years of classroom teaching experience spanning grades 1st to 6th across diverse landscapes, from the rolling hills of Ireland to the heart of Texas and the tranquil beauty of Vermont. With a passion for empowering young minds, she has now returned to her roots in Colorado, her home state, ready to embark on a new teaching journey. Beyond the classroom, she finds joy in teaching the strategic intricacies of chess through engaging after-school enrichment classes. When not fostering a love for learning, you’ll find her playing outside with her spirited toddler and pup, channeling creativity in the kitchen, carving lines on the ski slopes, and organizing game nights with her family and friends.

Bailey Braeseke
COACH Bailey

Bailey is a Head Coach in her second year working with PALS. She is from South Florida and moved to Denver in 2022 after spending four months traveling all over Europe, Africa, and North America visiting new cities and national parks! Her background is in filmmaking but she decided to get into the world of chess after watching The Queen’s Gambit and feeling inspired by just how beautiful and dramatic a game of chess can be. She’s looking forward to progressing as a teacher and player this school year and to helping her students be the best players and people they can be!


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