Clearing the Path

After reading Vanessa Sun’s article a couple days back, it struck me how many of the things she addressed that I took for granted. I never realized how blessed I was to have been able to learn chess at a relatively early age, to fully appreciating the people I’ve met, and again – to just how much of a vital role my parents have played in my success.

As much as I relate to everything she mentioned, I feel as though it is also necessary to think of the cons of starting chess at a very young age. Now, I’m not saying anything she said was wrong – I most definitely believe in and benefit from basically everything she says, but as a parent or child is trying to decide whether or not to devote much of someone’s childhood to chess, I believe that it is necessary to also understand the problems and unhappiness that it could create in a child’s life.

Time. Like all things, there are two sides to this. Sure, you have more time for chess, more time to improve, more time to learn, more time to meet people. But on the other hand, weekends don’t exist in your life anymore. Hanging out with your school friends becomes a rare occurrence. After all, your weekends will be you sitting in a chair at a chess board for more than ten hours of the day at a time. Depending on how serious you are, there will also be chunks of your week being devoted to personal study or private lessons. All of this, plus the way the society around you (your town, your state, maybe even your country) will view the fact that you play – either it comes off as a “great! You’re the coolest!” or a “What are you? You play chess….competitively?” All of this unfortunately creates an imbalance in the child’s life. While happy with the game (crossing my fingers that this is true, or at least will be in the future), they also feel as though they are missing out on a lot of school events or really anything non-chess related.

Something that needs to be addressed, before any of us can really talk about chess promotion to the extent that we want to and before we can create as large of a participating population as we can, is how to take away these negative factors.

At the time of the Girls Closed tournament, I had also been invited to a week long beach trip with my friends – but as much as I wanted to participate in that, I knew that participating in the Girls Closed tournament was not something I could allow myself to miss. 

Personally, I think chess gets a bit of a bad rep when you’re young – it’s a “nerdy” thing to be doing (not saying that’s bad, in fact I pride myself in being a complete nerd nowadays – but childhood me wanted to be “cool”). It takes up your time. Losing, let’s be honest, is never fun – but especially as a child.

So how do we do it? How do we go about making chess a more accessible and yet a not overly dominating factor in our lives? How do we make chess something that can be regarded as an asset to a young child wanting to fit in?

For me, finding that balance was accepting that if I want to be able maintain both friends at school and at chess – I have to work. Never let any single thing take over. It’s not necessary to do a complete chess training ritual everyday – sometimes a single tactic can go a long way. And in terms of making it more of an asset, the only thing we can do right now is slowly introduce it to as many people as we can and be humble and normal about it – if we make chess out to be an odd or special thing to be doing, then that’s how those around us will take it.


The Importance of Parental Support

When I was holding my NJ All-Girls Chess Camp about a month ago (article on that coming up!), I had several parents taking time out of their day to wait for when I was not running around trying to organize the girls into the correct room just to thank me for holding the camp, expressing how happy they were that their child could participate.

We see articles about talented children all the time: Jeffrey Xiong, Jennifer Yu, and Carissa Yip to name a few – but rarely do we see an article giving as much credit to the people behind the scenes – the parents – as much credit as they deserve. This lack of light upon the efforts of parents to change jobs in order to locate their kid in a more busy chess community, to drive hours and take days off from work to take their kids to tournaments, to use their hard earned money to find them a coach really struck me me when I was reading ChessLife’s December issue’s article on Jeffrey Xiong: there was a page-long excerpt in the middle of his article about his father!

I remember being like, “Wow! He does so much for Jeffrey – even runs with him every single day.” And then I realized that the majority, if not all of the top chess players in the world today would probably be nowhere without the support of their parents. A prime example would be Magnus Carlsen: his father has been his constant companion to tournaments since he started playing and even today, he travels with Magnus and trains with him.

Magnus Carlsen and his father

Even though I’m not a child prodigy like many of the other players that I have mentioned here, I would still be absolutely nowhere today without my parents support. Having started at a relatively old age compared to many of the other players nowadays at the age of eight, I had a hard time really getting into the game and letting it into my life. In addition, I was often teased in elementary school for being so “Asian” and “nerdy” for playing chess and spending my weekends doing that rather than say, participating in a sport or going to the amusement park. The fact that I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere and that chess had if anything become a sore subject for me led to a period of time where I just desperately wanted to quit. But my parents didn’t let me even though it meant that an childish me was lashing out at them for no apparent reason. Instead, they worked hard to be able too move our family to a better neighborhood where I could start over and where I already knew there was another serious chess player in the area.

So to the parents who thanked me at the All-Girls Chess Camp, and to all other parents who have done everything in their power and more to give their kids the chance to learn how to play: Thank you. Thank you for helping to expose your kids to the beauty of chess, and while there may be many bumps on this path – I promise you, your kids will come to thank you one day as well.

Leading up to a Tournament

Heading into tournaments, I have always been asked how it is I prepare – do I play lots of games online? Memorize openings? Study books? Listen to lectures? Ideally, it would be a combination of all of these… but with high school and now college, time hasn’t really allowed for it to happen.

Before anything else, it is important to understand what is one’s stronger points and weaker points – for me, I tend to be easily drawn to very aggressive tactical plans while I have always struggled with positional games where I really shouldn’t even be thinking about sacrificing a piece. Once you know what your weak points are, concentrate on those. Again, for me that would include looking at examples of strategic piece placements as well as learning and grasping a better understanding of my openings (something else I have always struggled with).

Webster University’s team analyzing a position during training

Of course, what I have been speaking of so far is the kind of long-term plan that one should always be aiming towards. But what happens if your upcoming tournament is in a few weeks, or even a few days? In such cases, I suggest very strongly that you blitz through as many tactics as you can a day and play blitz games online when possible in order to build your instinct, which will help with analyzing any position you are faced with more quickly in the tournament.

As simple as this may sound, sometimes the deciding factor of who comes out as the victor in a game is who is able to think on their feet better and who is wasting less time simply grasping an understanding of the position.

The Last Leg of the Grand Chess Tour

The final tournament of the Grand Chess Tour is finally upon us: the London Chess Classic. Wesley So, the winner of the Sinquefield Cup, is far enough ahead of the other players in the Tour that the only way for him to not win would be for Hikaru Nakamura to win the London Chess Classic.

Nakamura vs. So

Oddly enough, So and Nakamura had to face each other in the first round of the tournament – ultimately resulting in a win by So with black. As of right now (after Round 5), Wesley So is in the lead by half a point in front of Caruana, Kramnik, Aronian, and Nakamura. Should things turn around, there is still a chance that someone will take over the tournament!

This year’s tournament has been relatively more exciting than last year’s where there were many rounds of only draws and most rounds were primarily composed of draws. Another point that is very interesting this year is that the World Champion Magnus Carlsen is not competing. Nevertheless, the field is extremely high-leveled and competitive.

The tournament so far has turned out many exciting games – I advise you to explore them all, even the draws! I can’t wait to see who comes out as the victor in this close race towards the finish line and to all those college students out there – good luck on your finals!

Women’s World Chess Championships

Disclaimer: These are simply my thoughts after reading into multiple sources about the championships and do not at all represent the thoughts of Chess^Summit as a whole. In addition, if there are more relevant issues I am unaware of, please feel free to express your thoughts and concerns on this topic. The main purpose of this article is to create discussion about this topic as with the recent World Championships, I feel like the controversy over the Women’s Championships is being overlooked.

So if you haven’t heard already, the Women’s World Chess Championships will be held in Iran this coming February. For basically the first time ever, there have been extremely popular and non-chess based interfaces that are covering this championship due to the fact that all participants are required to wear a hijab.

Numerous people have spoken out about this situation – most notably, the US Women’s Champion, Nazi Paikidze has decided to completely boycott the tournament: even though it has been her dream to participate in the Women’s World Championships since she was sixteen. On the other hand, there are Iranian feminists and chess players who argue that by boycotting this tournament, people are in fact discouraging the feminist movement in Iran, as this will be the largest female sporting event ever hosted by the country and acts as a huge boost to the morale of their female athletes.

The Current US Women’s Champion: Nazi Paikidze

Chess is a game about expression – everyone has a different style of play, whether it be aggressive or passive, different mannerisms at the board, whether it be our attire or the position in which we think and analyze the position. By making them wear the hijab, the players lose a part of their identity, a part of the aura they give off at the board, and probably most important of all, a part of their confidence. For me personally, I will almost always be in a comfortable pair of jeans with a loose sweater on top of a pair of boots or sneakers and I prefer resting my chin on my hands. The few times where I have changed my attire and gone outside of my comfort zone, I’ve found that my performance itself is greatly affected. With my own personal experience in mind, I don’t believe that the enforcement of a hijab upon the participants is in any way fair to the players.

Now, before you jump to conclusions – I’m not saying that personal performance should be the priority here or that it is more important than the feminist movement in Iran. The core issue here is the individual’s personal choice to choose for themselves what they wish to wear in the environment of an international tournament. Iranian women have faced restrictions upon their participation in international events for wearing a hijab due to “safety reasons,” and while most competitions now allow them, they are still prevented from competing in some international sporting arenas like the international basketball championships. In such situations, people supporting the participation of Iranian women have continuously expressed that a person’s dress should not be the determining factor in their participation. So why is it that the case for this tournament?

I’m all for feminism, I really am – and honestly if it weren’t for the US government’s warning against traveling to Iran, I’d say this tournament would be an amazing opportunity for both the players and the country as a whole. I’m genuinely happy that the tournament is being held in a place where simply its occurrence will create positive impact on the community.

From what I understand, the hijab has a primarily religious and cultural symbol and a symbol of choice. It represents a part of a person, shows what culture or religion one believes in. By forcing other members of society who don’t actually believe in the same cultural or religious ideas, it is almost like the symbolism of a hijab is being depreciated since those who do not practice the cultural and religious beliefs that a hijab represents are wearing one.

Just a Tidbit about the World Chess Championships

Can I just say – for those of you who have seen me recently, for the billionth time – how incredibly excited I am that the World Chess Championships are being held in New York City this year? That’s only like, what three to four hours of travel from Swarthmore? Okay, I’m going to be completely honest – those hours of travel are not exactly the most exciting things ever, but perhaps – just perhaps – I’ll finally meet Magnus Carlsen.

Alright, enough of the fan-girling. But then again, how often is the World Championships of something you’re passionate about only a train and bus ride (add some possible subway travel) away? I’m just going to guess and say that the answer is rarely, if it even happens.

So what’s so fascinating about this World Championship? For one, the World Chess Championships have not been held in the US for about 21 years now – the last players being Kasparov and Anand. The return of a tournament of this caliber to the US speaks to how much chess has advanced in recent years in the US.

The two competitors at a young[er] age
The average age of the two players is 25.5 (quite literally, Carlsen is 25 while Karjakin is 26). Having such young competitors at the very top I think shows a great image to other people about the game of chess: that through hard work, age doesn’t matter. Personally, I also feel as though having these two men compete here can really further boost the recent surge of interest in the game of chess throughout America. At the very least, it gives me a very relatable reason to keep talking about chess.

So far in the four games that have been played, there have been four draws. Now, from my scans over various chess and regular news outlets, I felt like Carlsen has been the favorite for the championship but these games show that Karjakin is most definitely deserving of sitting in that chair across Carlsen and will be giving him a run for his money.

One thing I would like to point out before allowing all of you to go back to following the championship – keep a close eye out for any new or interesting openings played. I actually picked up a refutation against a line I absolutely abhorred playing against during the match between Anand and Carlsen. Even if it’s not a line you play, the openings that either Carlsen or Karjakin ultimately decide to play will most definitely be impacting the choices of the rest of the chess community as well so it can’t be a bad thing to be aware of these possible new novelties.

WCC 2.png
PC Vanessa Sun

Crossing that Bridge: When Chess Becomes More than ‘Just a Game’

In high school, there was always one phrase that would annoy me no matter when it was said – “You compete in chess? But that’s like… just a game!” Yeah, ok. Technically chess is a sport, albeit a sport of minds.

For almost all people, chess does start out as ‘just a game.’ It’s something we go to when we’re feeling tired or down – a source of entertainment or a distraction from what is going on in our daily lives. Something I never realized until I got to high school was just how much this so-called ‘game’ meant to me. It had become part of me and my identity. Soon, I was known as ‘that girl who plays chess’ and even today, in college I get that all the time.

So when does one start to realize what chess means in their lives? For me, it was when I started playing for myself, for the enjoyment of the game rather than the success of the wins. I started to go to tournaments because I missed chess not because I wanted to win my section. It was also around that time that I became proud to be a chess player. Soon, the confused but amazed faces my peers when they found out I was a player amused me rather than scared me.


Now, I know there are some of you out there who have also felt this change in what chess means in your life – what was it that led you across this bridge?


Moving Past the Board

The past week (October 7th – October 17th) was my fall break, so I had decided that I should go and play in Millionaire’s Open to a. try my luck and b. ensure that I am at least somewhat still invested in the game, as I was forced to remove myself from the almost purely academic environment I had gotten used to.

I’m going to be honest here and admit that I haven’t really studied chess since the World Youth Championships last year, which is just about 2 weeks shy of a full year ago. Taking that into consideration, my performance for the last five or so tournaments I played in before Millionaire’s was a pleasant surprise. Maybe because I did not feel the stress of school, so I was able to fully concentrate on my games, or maybe I was just able to retain what I learned in Greece for only about a year, but I was able to consistently improve my rating in small increments, reaching my peak.

So to say I was surprised at my poor performance at Millionaire Chess (3/7 with a half point bye for the first round) would be a lie, after all I haven’t sat in front of a chess board and thought for a couple months now. For the first time in who knows how long, I lost three games in a row in a single tournament. The worst part? Two of the three games were lost due to stupid blunders where I was simply trying to be too aggressive. So understandably, this was my expression for most of the tournament:


Okay, I’ll admit that was actually my expression during my game following the three losses where I finally won a well-fought game. I think one thing I loved about playing at Millionaire was that not a single game I won was really based on ‘luck,’ I had to fight hard and play consistently solid moves in order to not be outplayed, no matter the rating of my opponent. As I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty lucky player, this tournament acted as a reminder for me that you make your own luck – study and you’ll be rewarded. Don’t study? Get ready to suffer at one point or another.

I’m honestly deeply saddened that the Millionaire Chess series will most likely (I still believe in miracles) be ending as this tournament was probably one of the most consistently strong tournaments I have been to. There wasn’t a single easy game – everyone there was ready to give it their all.


Now, aside from the chess and my poor performance, the tournament was a ton of fun and a great experience as I was able to meet many other players, including tournament winner Dariusz Swiercz!

I’ve realized with this tournament that every tournament is a lesson – not at just the game level, but at the psychological level of our regular mental participation in the game. While I’ve been preoccupied adapting to my freshman year of college, I let chess slip out of my head, which was pretty detrimental to my play. Just by playing tournaments at a certain frequency, we are improving our play in small increments.


The WYCCs ~

The resort in Greece

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.

Playing Hall in Greece

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. /

US Team at the 2013 WYCC in the UAE (excluding a few members)


Gender Roles in Chess

We always talk about gender roles in work environments, or even in education, but a lot of times the enormous disparity between just the number of girls that play chess vs. the number of boys. Perhaps this is an activity that interests boys more – that’s definitely possible, but I would like to say otherwise.

When I first started playing chess as part of my elementary school’s chess club in second grade, there was about fifty of us – and about half were girls. So no, the problem is not that girls are not interested in chess. But if you took the roster of players from that chess club and looked at it today, I’m pretty certain that I am the only female, if not only player as a whole, that still plays chess. Even back then, when I participated in the Ohio Unrated K-3 Girls Championships, there was only one other player from my school – what happened to the other twenty-some players?

Even at events like this, I was the only girl

I remember that at so many of the tournaments I would participate in, it would be me and maybe two or three other female players – in a section of around a hundred if not more. Perhaps it was this absence of other female players that drove my peers away. To be honest, it was this lack of other female players that drove me to continue playing chess – I always felt like I had a point to prove against my friends who were male players.

As of right now, there is only one female player in the Top 100 Standard Rated List – Hou Yifan. In fact, she is over a hundred points higher rated than the second top female player. In my opinion, the fact that Hou Yifan is in the top 100 shows us that there is definitely potential for strong female players, the question now is how to expose more young female talent to the game and how to nurture their growth in the field.

So with all of this in mind as well as my phenomenal experiences at the Susan Polgar Girls Invitational, I decided to create the NJ All-Girls Chess Camp in 2014 to at least try to provide more young female players with the opportunity to learn the game (its free to all participants), have the resources to keep playing (everyone gets a free chess set) as well as meet other female players in their area so that they do not feel alone.

Now, a good friend of mine made me realize that part of allowing girls to better nurture their skills is to teach boys to respect the female players more, not simply to isolate the girls apart from the boys. So I’ve taken the first step – I’m bringing the game to the female players – but now it’s your turn: show those around you that you respect female players as much as your male peers. Who knows, one of these bright upstarts may become the next Hou Yifan or better!


To Donate to the NJ All-Girls Chess Camp:

More questions about the camp? Contact me at