The first time I ever qualified for the World Youth Chess Championships was when I was twelve – honestly, at the time, I didn’t even know what it was, just that my dad told me that I could go to Greece if I wanted to. I mean, its Greece, who doesn’t want to go, right? I went into the tournament seeing it as a vacation. Two weeks away from schoolwork. On a beach. Like it honestly does not get more perfect than that.
I woke up the first day of competition, and the first thing I did was go down to the beach and walk around. Ok. Wait. Where the hell is everyone? This place had at least a dozen people yesterday but today its completely empty. Turns out, everyone else was preparing for their games – and remember, this is round one.
Now that I’ve been to three World Youth’s, it all seems natural: preparation every morning before each game, and analysis after, but as a first timer, I was a complete stranger to such intensity. I mean, I hadn’t even been to a Nationals yet, so the jump from weekend tournaments to this constant presence of chess was a bit shocking. There was no escaping it. At the time, I found all this chess a bit overwhelming and intimidating – but it also became a type of motivation. I was surrounded by people who were passionate about the game. Who devoted hours, days, months, even years to chess. And that changed something for me – I realized that it wasn’t a weird thing to love this game, just because nobody else in school played doesn’t mean I shouldn’t, or that I should be ashamed about being a player.
After the tournament, I’m pretty sure I unconsciously had an epiphany. I became more serious at tournaments, I learned to be patient and stop throwing pieces across the board at my opponents and instead play more positionally. Within the next two months, I went from an 1800 player to breaking 2000 at the beginning of 2011.
For many people, the World Youth Chess Championships is a place where we realize that we’re really not alone in the world, and probably not as ‘amazing’ as we thought we were (unless you’re Kayden Troff or Awonder Liang). It’s a place where, for many people, it is their first opportunity to immerse oneself into chess and discover their passion for it. /