Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Relentless pursuit of chess promotion for Girls

Chess Mom Kirsten Lewis just sent me this story about girl's chess in Santa Cruz, California. I would like to thank Kirsten, all other chess Moms and Dads and Coaches across the country for giving girls a chance in chess. This mission cannot be accomplished without the help from everyone!

New Santa Cruz chess tournament admits girls only

By Rosy Weiser
Santa Cruz Sentinel Correspondent

Four-year-old Sydney Lewis, a charmer with big eyes and a coy smile, has put her stamp on the game of chess.

On a recent Sunday at the weekly chess club at the Santa Cruz Central Branch library, Lewis, dressed in pink frills and stripy tights, arrives toting a Hello Kitty chess bag and a pink playing mat and sits down opposite a similarly clad opponent, the only other girl in a room full of boys.

She wiggles, sucks on her fingers, even ends up under the table briefly. But she still manages to stay relatively focused as her counterpart, Alyssa Beltran, a girl nearly twice her age, eventually announces "Check mate!"

It's an incongruous sight when you think of this ancient, complex board game enjoyed by some of the world's most fascinating minds.

But Lewis and Beltran are part of a growing movement of female players who relish this world of rooks, knights and queens just as they play house and push dolls around in strollers.

"Historically, chess has always been an afterthought for girls," said library chess teacher Gjon Feinstein. "There's been this presumption girls would not be attracted to something so competitive, so left brain," he said, adding that, much like the national numbers of chess-playing girls about 10 percent, only a handful of girls attend his classes and tournaments.

Next week, Santa Cruz County girls will have the chance to compete in the area's first ever single-sex chess tournament. Organized by Feinstein, and Lewis' parents, the event will feature a talk by 15-year-old Louiza Livschitz, one of Northern California's top-ranked junior players, followed by a simultaneous chess exhibition where Livschitz will play all challengers at once, moving from board to board.

"We need more girls playing. I want to show that you can have fun with the game," Livshitz said. "It's nothing to be scared of," she added, explaining that her experience as one of the only girls in a sea of boys at tournaments was initially intimidating.

Livshitz, along with many young girls seriously into the chess scene, refers to Susan Polgar as their primary Chess Mentor.

In 1991, Polgar, the top player in the United States, and one of the top 10 players, became the first woman ever to earn the title of chess "Grandmaster", one of the highest rankings in the chess world.

Her fans describe her as nothing short of a chess missionary; intent on getting girls interested and involved in the game, she's sponsored a number of all-girl events throughout the country.

Theories about the discrepancy in numbers between the sexes include the idea that girls don't receive enough encouragement from non-chess playing parents who assume the game is a 'boy thing,' an 'intimidation factor' relating to the skewed ratio of boys versus girls, and chess teachers who don't recognize girls may have different learning styles, according to Polgar's Web site.

Girls do approach the game with a different "energy," said Feinstein. Qualities like creativity, graciousness and patience are all skills that can work to a chess player's advantage, he said.

Back at the library, chess club is over but Lewis isn't finished with her daily dose of chess: she may play her brother later, go online and look at the Polgar Web site, or spend time in the family chess room working on board problems set-up by her parents.

"At this age, they're able to absorb a lot," said her father, Brian Lewis. "For us chess is about developing life learning tools, like concentration, confidence, winning and losing."

And while Lewis won't be participating in the girls tournament this time around she's too young she has her sights on next year.

"I like chess 'cause I like to win. I like chess because I want to show my friends that I got a trophy," she said.
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