Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Girls only event in SLC
No boys allowed in this chess tourney
In SLC » Girls' Chess Championship players were of all ages.
By Natalie Dicou
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 03/04/2009 05:36:52 PM MST
About 60 girls from across the state faced off in Salt Lake City late last month at the Girls' Chess Championship, battling for the right to represent Utah at the Polgar Invitational for Girls in Texas this summer.
The tournament had a different look from typical male-dominated chess contests as Nibley Park Elementary School's gym filled with pony-tailed chess players who, at times, were as serious as a grandmaster, but, at other points, giggled with opponents.
Horizonte Instruction and Training Center student Jamie Olsen-Mills, a senior, took first place overall, winning a seat at the Polgar Invitational. The Salt Lake City teen acknowledged that few girls play chess compared with boys.
"I think girls can be easily discouraged from math, science, engineering -- that kind of thing. ... Chess is one of those things they'll shy away from," Olsen-Mills said.
Olsen-Mills, who attends Horizonte but plays with the West High chess team, has competed in tournaments since age 7.
"I love the psychology behind it," Olsen-Mills explained. "I'm a very psychological player. My style varies depending on who I'm playing."
Tournament director and competitive chess player Stephanie Pitcher -- who took a three-year hiatus from chess as a middle-schooler because she "didn't want to be seen as the nerd" -- acknowledges that the chess world is full of stereotypes, such as, "Chess is nerdy" and "Chess is a boys' game." Pitcher hopes girls won't buy into that thinking.
After taking her middle-school years off, Pitcher started playing chess again and rose up the ranks of the Utah chess world, winning the women's state championship five times.
She said that for every 10 boys who play chess, one girl plays.
Chess, however, might be gaining momentum among Utah girls. The number of Girls' Chess Championship participants jumped from about 40 to about 60 from 2008 to 2009. Pitcher attributes this to the growing number of in-school programs.
It's a trend Pitcher would like to see continue.
"I feel so strongly for chess," Pitcher said. "I've had so many benefits from chess, [including] receiving international recognition."
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