Sunday, August 23, 2009

Checkmate in Fullerton

Saturday, August 22, 2009
Checkmate in Fullerton with a world champion
Children play four-time chess queen.
The Orange County Register

FULLERTON – Brain power rose to a new level on Friday when four-time Women's World Chess Champion Susan Polgar challenged 21 youths and nine adults, playing 30 boards simultaneously in an exhibition.

Players sat puzzled, some with furrowed brows, as Polgar, 40, strolled calmly from board to board to make her moves in nanoseconds. The games, played at the Fullerton Elks Lodge, lasted 2½ hours until one man – James Williamson of Riverside – played Polgar to a draw.

Sunny Hills High School senior Sean Manross, 17, who won a $36,000 scholarship to Texas Tech at the Susan Polgar Boys and Girls Open World Chess Championships in Las Vegas in June, was among the participants.

At the world tourney, Manross represented the Fullerton Host Lions Club, which also sponsored Polgar's visit to Orange County.
The blonde chess whiz, who is the director of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Texas Tech, stressed in an earlier talk how the game influences life skills and education.

"Chess inspires logical thinking and decision-making," she told the audience before the challenge. "Every move is a change in circumstances like in real life. To have young people see changes is an important skill."

She said kindergarten through third grade is a crucial time for developing thinking processes, and if chess were used more in schools, society would be better educated.

Polgar said 10 years ago in Brownsviille, Texas, one teacher introduced chess in the cash-poor school district. Today, 5,000 children are in the chess program, which also produced a national champion. In addition, Brownsville received a $500,000 federal grant to fund the program, Polgar said.

In Fullerton, Host Lions Club member Pete Baron has organized city chess championships to stimulate critical thinking in the elementary and high schools. Local Lion volunteers have spent more than 2,000 hours in the past eight years supporting scholastic chess.

"I like the strategy in chess," Beechwood School eighth-grader Carlos Suazo said before playing. "It's like war; you have to use your smarts."

Polgar was 4 years old when she first became fascinated with the shapes of her father's chess pieces in their home in Budapest. After her father taught her to play, the challenges drew her in. Months later, she won her first tournament in the 11-and-under competition. By age 15, she was the No. 1 ranked player in the world in her division.

"As a little girl, I realized chess crossed over all boundaries; there was an element of equalness that was important to me," said Polgar, who went on to break the gender barrier as the first woman to earn the title of Men's Grandmaster, win the U.S. Open Blitz Championship three times and coach a university chess team.

She isn't above sharing some of her secrets.

Polgar told the children to first get the knights and bishops out to control the center of the board, to not move the same pieces twice in the beginning, and to put the king in a safety position.

"Chess is the most played game on the Internet, it's an international language and it builds friendships," Polgar added.

And then she shared her motto, "Win with grace. Lose with dignity."

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