Thursday, August 31, 2006
Lowell student reigns in circuit
By Mike Lipka, Globe Correspondent August 31, 2006
LOWELL -- The chess world is one of chivalry and royalty, of stern faces and seriousness. And as much as Lowell High School sophomore Jessica Wamala tries to fit in, she cannot.
She is certainly good enough: She recently won the title of the top under-21 female player in Massachusetts. It's just that when the 15-year-old Jessica is beating you, she's unable to hold back her big smile.
``It's really rude," she said with a smile. ``I feel bad. I really try not to."
Wamala has had a lot of smiles to contain over her nine-year chess career, and just talking about chess leaves her beaming. For her, the game is about fun. (``I never really got so bummed out playing chess," she said.) And that's just the way her father, Severine, wants it.
But Severine Wamala almost didn't learn how to play chess in the first place. While he was an undergraduate at Makerere University in his native Uganda, his roommate tried to teach him, but it was no easy task; Wamala was fervently devoted to his studies, determined to avoid another distraction.
``I told him, `Don't teach me chess because I don't even have time,' " he said.
Wamala, who traveled to the United States in 1988 to work toward a doctorate at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, laughed at the story last week. He said that once his roommate twisted his arm, it didn't take long to realize its benefits with problem-solving and mental exercise.
``When I started playing chess," Wamala said, ``I stopped worrying about my education, and I just did it."
So, as soon as his children were old enough to learn, he taught them. Jessica, at 6, and Jacob, at 7, quickly embraced the game, engaging in countless head-to-head battles. When Severine wasn't away playing at tournaments, he'd play them both at the same time (what chess players call a ``simul"), beating them both easily.
Things have changed since then.
``My Dad doesn't want to play me anymore," Jessica said, explaining that she surpassed him in rating about a year ago, not long after Jacob got better than his father. The youngest Wamala, 10-year-old Youwana, probably won't be far behind.
For Jessica, chess went from hobby to obsession at age 9, when her father took her and Jacob to one of his adult tournaments. Jessica, who said she was ``just happy to be there," lost all of her games, but her father told her to just keep playing.
``We had this computerized chess board, and I'd play the computer. Then, I'd go over the game and see where I went wrong," Jessica said. ``Once I started seeing patterns and stuff, my rating would go up."
Chess ratings range from zero to around 2,800, which is super grandmaster status achieved by only a handful of people in history. When you break 2,000, you're considered an expert -- a status Jacob Wamala has reached. Jessica is a notch below, between 1,800 and 1,999 as a Class-A player, but she continues to cut down on her mistakes.
Whatever their rating, the Wamala children have always dominated the competition (Jessica cannot even put a number on how many tournaments she's won). They started out playing in adult tournaments, but soon afterward, their father got them involved in scholastic tournaments, which give out trophies to their top finishers. After a few years of scholastics, an entire room of the Wamala house was devoted to trophies.
Jessica's most recent success was last month at the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls in Oak Brook, Ill., where Jessica finished sixth out of more than 50 competitors. She earned the spot by winning the Massachusetts under-21 girls title.
At such a high level it can be a grind to outthink your opponent, she said, since you have to go into the contest with a plan, react to your opponent's method, and constantly be thinking four or more moves ahead.
The rest of the article can be read here.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
By Ananya Roy (Georgia)
I had the good fortune of getting an invitation early to this year’s Susan Polgar invitational tournament based on my performance in the First Susan Polgar National Open tournament. I was thrilled in getting this opportunity to fulfill my desire of playing in this prestigious tournament. I sensed playing in the Susan Polgar Open that the Polgar tournaments are special and very well organized, and more than anything else a lot of fun.
I learned about the Susan Polgar invitational tournament from my Father, a few months after I played in my first chess tournament in 2004 and I definitely wanted to be a part of it from the moment I learned about this tournament.
The experience and memories of this tournament shall stay with me for a long time. I feel fortunate having been there and done that. I of course am reminded of the fact that it is one thing to go and another to win and I know each one of us but one will work towards reaching that elusive goal.
It feels good to see so many girls competing at the highest level and I can envision a day that is not far behind when the Polgar girls will be as good at chess as the Denker boys, if not better.
I have always been overwhelmed by the presence of Susan Polgar and like so many other girls feel inspired by her legacy in this game of chess that I enjoy playing so much and what she is doing to encourage young chess players in this country, especially girls. I don’t know what a “marketing genius” is but that’s how I have heard some people describe Paul Truong. I see him as a person always smiling, always easily accessible and taking a lot of pictures, adding immense value to the Polgar tournaments.
I made a few good friends during this tournament and I definitely would like to stay in touch and carry that friendship forward. I have been impressed by so many participants that I possibly cannot name every one. None the less I will mention a few – I have been impressed by the calm resolve of Abby Marshall, perseverance of Elina Kats and Courtney Jamison, maturity of Jordana Williams at such an young age, the demeanor of Emily Chu and the list goes on.
As time passes, memories fade, tears dry and the laughter stops echoing in our ears, but hopes and desires rise. I definitely desire to go back next year and compete again and if I do get that opportunity, I know for sure I will give it my all, like I have never done before. The countdown begins. Good luck to all!
Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls 2006
By Abby Marshall
Last year at the Polgar Invitational in Phoenix I did not have high expectations. I hoped for a nice score and a place in the top five. Mostly, I was just thrilled to be there and get a chance to play other top girls from around the country. Still, my motivation and interest in chess were at an all-time high, and I looked forward to the trip with excitement and dreams of winning. Six days later, after four wins and two draws against players with international titles, I was declared co-champion and awarded a scholarship to UTD.
This year I felt much more edgy and nervous. Naturally, it would feel less special to win this prestigious title again, and, what’s more, I did not think I could do it. Arguably the competition was stronger last year with two players rated 2050 and 2300 respectively, but for some reason, I was less sure of myself and my playing ability. I felt there was little time to prepare for the tournament because I spent several weeks away ón vacation at the beginning of the summer. Also, at the time of the tournament, I had not played a serious game of chess for two months. Finally, last year the family of a friend who was playing in the Denker had taken me to this event and I remember having a lot of freedom in the hotel and around the city. This year my mom, younger sister, and baby brother were coming, and so this meant we were less flexible.
Being the returning champion put me in a difficult situation psychologically. If I finished in any place other than first, it would seem like a big disappointment. I’m not sure what other people thought of my chances, but I knew the competition would be tough with the top four players (I was number four) all within fifty points of each other, and a cluster of 1800 players just below.
Everything seemed less special to me. I remember I played every game last year in a blend of high excitement, adrenaline, and nerves with confidence in myself that I could at least draw every player here. I would walk around the tournament site in order to calm myself and be clear-headed for the game and then sit down at the board, highly motivated yet also relaxed. This year I went through the first day of the tournament rather sluggishly and without feeling very excited, trying to get myself motivated for the game and recover the thrill of last year.
Luckily, by the third round I started to become more alert and focused. I met some really great people and the old excitement and positive tension came back to me. It also helped that the three players ahead of me either lost or drew their games so I moved onto the top board. After the round I usually relaxed in the hotel room until my mom, sister, and brother came back and we’d all go see some relatives who lived in the area. It definitely was not the ideal tournament routine, driving an hour and visiting late into the night, but I think ultimately it cleared my head and eased some of the pressure. Other nights I would play bughouse for a few hours, again, not to be recommended, but perhaps that motivated me to play well.
In the second and third games my opponents put up terrific battles, going seventy and fifty-five moves, showing why they were the best in their states. Regardless of one’s rating, every person was the best somewhere. When you travel to represent your state, you try.
The fourth game was the first test I thought I might fail. I met my opponent last year at the Polgar. She is a strong player, from Texas and is less than a hundred points behind me. For me the opening was a bit of a mess. She quickly equalized and got a comfortable game while I struggled to reorganize my pieces. After this phase I made no obvious good moves I’m proud of; but I think she may have played too slowly and allowed me to build an easy attack that got overpowering. This was the turning point in the tournament for me, beating a good player about my strength. I felt confident again and a repeat of last year now looked entirely doable.
Game five was the decisive battle. Only my opponent and I had a perfect score. I believe everyone else was a point behind us or would be by the end of the round. This round my motivation and nerves peaked and, more importantly, I felt confident and ready. Whomever won would be guaranteed at least a tie for first, so I figured if I won now that would be enough and I could enjoy the last round. Such thoughts are bad luck and revealed to me I still was not in the proper mindset.
My opponent employed the Stonewall, which I loathe to play against. I don’t really know much about what to do against this system other than a basic idea of where my pieces should go. In blitz, I always get into trouble against it. I thought I was doing all right in the beginning. She began a typical Stonewall attack with the f and g pawns while I drummed up some play on the queenside and watched the center. I believe she made a mistake in pushing g4-g5, which brought about a strange position where I thought I should be better. It appeared my pieces could defend my king while I mopped up her weak pawn, got reorganized, and used my extra material and space. She simply played logical moves while I struggled to find the simplest way to proceed, using about forty five minutes for the next four moves, which was a generous amount given the time controls. My efforts failed to find the best moves and she had a chance to win by clearing the way for her dark-squared bishop. I did see her crushing move after I played 26...Rf6 but she played the next two moves in about five minutes so I did not have to endure much agony. We got into an interesting ending where I had a valuable extra pawn though she had the two bishops. I thought it should be a draw, and brooded a bit over accepting her draw offer around move 55, but I decided to press a little longer. She got too aggressive with her king and so I managed to win. A similar thing happened last year when in a drawn late-middlegame position in the same round my opponent blundered bladly and lost.
After this victory I felt utterly jubilant yet also relaxed. That night I played a couple hours of bughouse and stuck around to watch the Open, basking in the glow of successfully defending my title. I figured by tomorrow my motivation for the last game would come and I could hopefully win the tournament outright. Right then, all I felt was relief. It’s strange that this win didn’t add any pressure to get a perfect score; my only goal in this tournament was to get first again and so I didn’t feel any additional anxiety now that my primary objective was achieved. These emotions are bad for a chess player. If I had been in a similar position last year, I believe I would have been much more focused and able to play a higher quality sixth game.
The last round saw me paired against the top seed. To my dismay I felt no more pressure than in a casual skittles game, which for me is disastrous because I play very well under pressure and not up to my usual strength when I feel relaxed. This is true for many players: usually the more tension you feel the more you care about winning the game.
During the whole game I felt restless and made my moves quickly, getting up from the board frequently and pacing around the room. Only when my position began disintegrating did I finally sit down and focus. My opponent definitely had winning chances in the game but played too slowly and gave me a chance for a counterattack on her king. I failed to exploit this and again she built up pressure on my weak queenside. We traded into an endgame where she had a definite edge, though she continued trading into a very drawn position. I offered a draw, which she declined. A few moves later, she offered, and I accepted.
This was one of the toughest tournaments I have ever played in, psychologically and chess-wise. I did not dominate my opponents. I just played a little better and made the next-to-last mistake. My final score, with five straight victories and a draw, is not an accurate representation of how hard this event was for me. With a couple of different moves, my performance could have turned out far worse. In the critical games, my opponents had winning chances and I had to struggle in the early rounds to get the full point. Most of my games went to the third hour mark. In these events, the high prestige and excitement provided by being surrounded by so many good players inspires all participants to play well above their ratings.
I suppose my biggest problem in this tournament was not getting in the proper mindset. I played not to lose and worried too much about not finishing first. It would have been better to concentrate more on enjoying the event like last year and improving my score or aiming to win outright. It seemed to me like facing the same incredible challenge again but for no gain this time, when I should have realized there is a lot to gain the second time around. I did not expect to win but I’m happy I tried and found out how wonderful it is to be a two-time winner of such an amazing event.
All in all, I’m very glad I decided to participate in the Polgar this year. It’s a great chance to meet other girls who enjoy chess and inspiring to see girls advanced enough to play good games. I met some extraordinary people here and had a good time. The Polgar is a phenomenal event that I fully support.
The hotel looked magnificent and in a convenient location to eat, shop, and go into the city. The playing conditions were excellent and using the flags and MonRois added to the grandeur of the Polgar. The only thing I would change is the clock. It’s nice to practice with international time controls, but I think better chess would be played with the Denker’s G/180. I always felt rushed at the end even with the increment and would much rather have the additional hour and a half. Otherwise, everything is perfect, especially the added blitz match between the Denker and Polgar winners, and I think the Polgar has a bright future.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Surprise After Surprise
By Alice Chen (Utah)
My sister, my brothers, and I are back from one of the most eventful trips of our lives; namely, the U.S. Open and Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls. If someone cared to ask me to sum up my experience in Chicago as a whole, I would have to say “surreal.” My siblings and I came across so many surprises along the way from the beginning of Utah’s qualifying event to the end of the 2006 Polgar Invitational, that it hardly seems like something that would happen in our everyday life.
Our first surprise came at Utah’s Polgar Qualifying Tournament back in April; our first, yet unfortunate surprise. My sister Janice had represented Utah at the Polgar Invitational the previous year, and she fantasized all year this year to play as Utah’s representative again. Having worked hard, she was confident she’d win the qualifying event, as were we. Sure, I played in the tournament as well; but it never came across to me realistically that I’d be able to represent Utah; I participated in the tournament merely to support my sister.
However, the results didn’t come as we thought they would; we were stunned to learn that Janice hadn’t won. Coincidentally, it seemed that the moment she had lost, it started to rain. Unable to calm herself, Janice left the tournament room at once, running into the rain and walking more than two miles, drenched with not only water, but fury and unhappiness. Her confidence and hope was renewed, fortunately, when she learned she’d be getting another chance at making it to the Polgar tournament in Las Vegas. If she could win the under fifteen-year-old section at the Girl’s World Open Championship, she would receive an invitation to play in the Polgar event at the U.S. Open.
In the months before the event, Janice played chess constantly, studying from whatever chess book she could get a hold of at home. This hard work paid off. Throughout the week of the tournament, she was like an indestructible force -- nothing could take her down, not even an bitter cold. Winning the under fifteen section and a berth to the 2006 Polgar Invitational in Chicago, we were all elated.
My family and I thought that was it. My dad would take Janice and two of my brothers to Chicago. She would play in the Polgar, and my brothers would be participating in the Open and various side events. In the meantime, I’d stay home and baby-sit my youngest brother while my mother was busy. It was all set, weeks and weeks in advance. Yet, a mere two days before they left, my father got a phone call; the type of phone call that nobody expects -- not at the last minute, anyway. I was informed that the girl who qualified as our state representative wasn’t going to be attending the tournament, which meant that I would be qualified to take her place and represent Utah alongside my sister. I was shocked, to say the least. After all, I definitely hadn’t even thought, let alone planned, on representing Utah in Chicago.
Although I was completely unprepared, I jumped at this opportunity. Cramming two weeks worth of clothing and other necessities into a duffel bag, my father, sister, two of my brothers, and I clambered into our minivan and began the long, two day road trip to my birth state of Illinois. I was so excited for numerous reasons. Firstly, that I’d get to represent Utah with Janice. Secondly, that I’d get to visit the state I was born in for the first time since I was one year old. Oh, and not to mention…thirdly, I’d get to drive for a few hours on the roads; I had just gotten my license a few days prior to our leave, so needless to say, although it had nothing to do with chess, it was pretty eventful for me to get to plow right on down the freeways.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the day came. At the opening ceremony, I listened anxiously as the states and their representatives were announced, eagerly awaiting my turn to be recognized. And when my turn came, yet another surprise hit my family and I. “From the Beehive State, representing Utah in the Polgar are Alice Chen and Janice Chen. And representing Denker is…” The answer was something we never would have expected. “Tony Chen. Boy, that’s a lot of Chen’s!”
It took a minute to register what the announcer had just said. Yes, it was a lot of Chen’s. And one of them was a very unexpected one, at that. Our brother. None of us knew he’d been chosen as Utah’s Denker representative, not even himself. At the time of the ceremony, Tony, in fact, had been downstairs, in a heated game in the Quads event, unaware he was to represent his state. When my father hurried down to inform him of this shocking yet exciting bit of news, Tony, although he had been up two pawns in his game, was in such awe he lost in a matter of minutes. Talk about the effects of surprise!
After six days of animated games, the Polgar and Denker tournaments came to a close. Although we felt we might have been able to do better, we did feel we did considerably well, taking into account the nature in which we entered the tournament. We had risen to the best of our abilities, playing our way through thick and thin. The end of it was here. And there was one more surprise in store for us. Colin, our brother, at the tender age of ten, had outperformed us all; finding glory in several of the side events he participated in on a whim, just for fun, he came home with well over a hundred dollars in cash. Startling? Quite.
This whole experience has been so amazing, not only for me, but for my family as well. Representing Utah alongside not only Janice, but Tony as well was an occurrence I might never be able to come across again. Really, what are the chances of something like this happening in everyday life? It was all so surreal. It’s something that I’ll cherish forever.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Susan Polgar All-Star Girls’ Chess Team
The Susan Polgar Foundation is pleased to announce a new initiative designed to help raise the playing level of young, talented female players in the United States: the Susan Polgar All-Star Girls’ Chess Team.
Our goal is to recognize girls who already excel in chess and it to serve as a motivational tool for others. All girls who qualify for the team will be nationally recognized and will receive a special Susan Polgar All-Star jacket, a special All-Star Certificate, and an invitation to the exclusive and intensive Susan Polgar All-Star Girls’ Training Program conducted by me and other highly qualified top-level coaches, similar to the historic 2004 US Women’s Olympiad Training Program that I created. This program will greatly assist them in improving their chess skills.
Below are the criteria for the Susan Polgar All-Star Girls’ Chess Team:
October Rating List used Each Year
Age Minimum Peak Rating
6 & Under 1300
In addition, any girl who is within approximately 100 points from the above criteria MAY apply for special exemptions to attend this exclusive training program. (Special exemptions will be determined by the Polgar Committee based on special circumstances). It will not be an easy task for girls to qualify for the Susan Polgar All-Star Girls’ Chess Team. The bar has been set high to motivate girls to try to achieve as much as they can.
There is no stopping any young female player from qualifying for another award such as the Trophies Plus All-America Chess Team. They can qualify and accept either award or both; it is entirely up to the players who earned it. Therefore, we are not excluding any individual young female players. This is a non-profit initiative to help the USCF and young female players in the United States. Girls are dropping out of chess at an alarming rate. We need to reverse this trend before we can expect to produce large numbers of good female players. The Susan Polgar Foundation is fully committed to this goal.
The USCF thanks the Susan Polgar Foundation for their support of women’s chess in America. By recognizing our most accomplished young players, the Foundation is a welcome partner in the USCF’s goal of raising the level of women’s chess in this country.
The Game of Life
By Margaret Bryan
The completely windowless room still managed to shed voluminous amounts of light on the guests as the numerous participants situated themselves at their correct boards and placed their flags proudly in easy vision of their opponent. The ceiling was an abundant cascade of translucent beads, and the dark paneled wood intricately bordering the walls was a sight of impregnable extravagance. I looked about me searchingly, attempting to scout out a pink sweatshirt in this huge mass of overwhelming confusion. I smiled, thinking it humorous that one of the only people I had spoken to before the tournament happened to be my opponent in that first round.
I glanced about for a clock, and, finding that there were none on the walls, began scanning the vicinity for the sight of a watch on someone’s wrist. My parents came over to wish me good luck, and, as in the tone of a person in a severely anxious state, I replied tersely, “What time is it?”
“Only 10:45, you still have fifteen minutes to go,” my mom assured me. I sighed and leaned back in my chair impatiently. For a twelve year-old, in nerve-racking instances such as these, fifteen minutes seems like an eternity. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, momentarily banishing my feelings of anxiety and anticipation, able to smile as my opponent slid into her chair and speak with relative cordiality, managing to temporarily mask my nervosa.
One of the tournament directors cleared his throat and began to speak. I kept one eye on him, but most of my attention was directed to the other competitors, all of them using trademark methods to compose themselves. One player straightened the chess pieces placidly, while others attempted to cause an aura of intimidation by staring down their opponents. I wondered if they all were as nervous as I was, and then I concluded that train of thought by writing some quick information down on my score sheet. At last the speaker said, “You may now start your clocks”, and the sound of scribbling on paper mingled with the slamming of pieces rang through the room. I noted with satisfaction that this was a community where I could easily belong. I pressed my clock, then leaned back, suddenly much more relaxed than I had been the moment before.
Before the Polgar tournament, I was merely a hobby player. (Judging by my small rating of 1076, you probably could have deduced that without my saying so.) I was accustomed to being the highest rated scholastic female player in my sparsely populated state, and, since I didn’t have to overly practice to attain that goal, I was content. But when I arrived at the Doubletree hotel, I noticed young players much like my self in many respects save that their ratings ranged from a hundred to almost a thousand points higher than mine. I remembered that I had agreed to write a daily journal for chessmaine.net, our state’s largest chess website, and immediately felt sick to my stomach. My analysis would seem like a joke when compared to the intellectual prowess of these new “young” talents; most of whom were at least three years older than myself. It was at that moment that I made a crucial decision: I was going to become a chess player.
So I purchased my own bright red chess bag and roll-up board, a set of weighted pieces, and both an analog and digital clock, but soon realized that being a good chess player is more than walking around with a showy display of equipment and trying to get your rating up higher. It involves a love of the game, and, more importantly, a word that at this juncture was almost alien to me: “practice”.
Then I gradually began to increase my skills. Every night, I spent a good hour analyzing my game for the day and played blitz whenever possible with any of my family members who were willing. I registered myself for ICC, and, after my round had finished, strolled around, studying the games of both the top and lower boards alike.
I was also astonished at the profound impact the tournament had on my family. My mother had never had much of an interest in chess before, but after attending Susan Polgar’s lecture could often be found intently studying a book of chess puzzles. My father played in several side events, and as a result, his rating went up sixty points. Even my eight year-old sister, who hadn’t played chess much for a couple of months now, found a rekindled interest in the game. She ended up buying her own set and board as well, and, if possible, was even more adamant about playing blitz than myself. What an influential game chess can be!
I glanced around the lobby one more time, still in a slight state of shock that it was finally over. I was leaving for home today, and I wasn’t really looking forward to returning. Yes, Maine is a wonderful state in the long run, but I would have liked just a few more days to roam the halls of the hotel, occasionally pausing in the main hall to glance at a couple of games at the top boards in the final rounds of the U. S. Open, and perhaps driving into the city one more time to stroll along that Magnificent Mile and glance in awe at those tall skyscraper, slightly jealous that they were allowed to remain there stationary in that haven of unique food and urban culture.
I said one last farewell to the friends I had made over the past week, then strolled through the lower lobby bookstore with an obvious air of finality. I then ascended the escalator and went to rejoin my family. We exited the front doors unceremoniously, loaded our luggage into a taxi, and rode out of the Western suburbs for the last time en route to Union Train Station. I gazed at the hotel once more as we drove off into the distance, knowing full well that the seven days I had spent there would have an effect on me forever.
Well, I am back in Maine, and you can read my complete account of the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls on chessmaine.net. It is Friday, August 18, 2006, and since returning home on the 14th I have attended two chess clubs, a four day running camp, and spent much time polishing my pieces of writing for the website. So, basically my life has returned to normal, if it weren’t for the memory of a weeklong visit to one of America’s most illustrious cities and both the friends and experiences I acquainted myself with there. Before that, chess had just been a competitive sport for me; it was something to win and something to lose.
But now I look upon the game as an exquisite piece of art created by the ultimate genius. It’s unfathomable that this diminutive collection of shaded squares and figurines could unveil so many possibilities. I mentioned before that I knew that my experiences at the tournament would have an effect on me forever, but I was wrong. They didn’t just have an effect on me; they profoundly changed me for eternity. The difference was as subtle as an insignificant pawn being advanced one space, but, like that pawn, revealed a whole new series of combinations and potential, and with this newly discovered wisdom, I can succeed in almost anything.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Greetings from Seattle! I arrived in Seattle last night. This is my first time in this beautiful city! Tomorrow, I will be going on the Chess Moves II Cruise to Alaska along with GM Onischuk, GM Christiansen, GM Stripunsky and many chess enthusiasts.
Many more pictures will be posted soon. Please check back often. There will also be some posted on www.SusanPolgar.blogspot.com.