Morgan Mahowald was born into a family of chess enthusiasts. “I’m one of the only kids I’ve run across who competes in tournaments but can’t beat their parents.”

One teen is taking her skills to a national competition.
By ALEX ROBINSON , Star Tribune
Last update: April 28, 2009 – 8:12 PM
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Minneapolis, MN, USA

Morgan Mahowald, a 17-year-old Robbinsdale Cooper High School senior, was born into a world of chess.

Her parents met each other at a chess club and said that, as a baby, she used chess pieces to teethe — and she played her first tournament at only 3 years old.

“Chess isn’t a game, it’s not even really a sport, it’s a way of life,” said Morgan.

The New Hope teen will put her chess experience to the test in August at a national high school girls’ chess tournament, which she qualified for by winning the state high school girls’ championship last month.

Morgan also qualified for the national tournament last year and is making a repeat appearance.

Despite Morgan’s success, she stays grounded, perhaps because she’s not even the best chess player in her family.

Her dad, Matt Mahowald, is a veteran tournament player, a chess coach and holds the national title of a chess master — he said it’s not uncommon for him to spend up to eight hours preparing for a single game. Her mom, Daa Mahowald, is one of the stronger women players in the area, and organizes chess camps for girls. The Mahowalds also run the chess club at Cooper.

To have a family so involved in chess is rare, Daa Mahowald said. Many kids who participate in national tournaments are coached by professional chess coaches who can charge up to $100 per hour, she said. Morgan just takes lessons from her dad.

“I’m one of the only kids I’ve run across who competes in tournaments but can’t beat their parents,” Morgan said.

Although Morgan had played chess nearly all of her life, she didn’t truly start taking the game seriously until about two years ago when she went with her dad to play chess at Santa Monica pier in California — an area well-known by serious chess players.

While there, Morgan played a variety of interesting people, and many of them were beach bums who she said “were actually really good.”

“I’ve never had so much fun playing chess before,” she said.


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