Kids talk to chess superstar Karpov, play against Russians at Oak Brook tournament
By Michael Sean Comerford
Contributor April 2, 2012 12:12PM

Drama in chess tournaments happen in quiet rooms, just the shuffling of chess pieces and the tapping of timers are heard as the stories unfold on a chess board.

Viewers have to know the game, too, to see the spinning strategies rolling around in players’ minds. Although a quiet game, emotions run high as the tricks of the trade come into play.

The Fried Liver. The Poisoned Pawns. The Queen’s Sacrifice. The Traps. The Pin. The Skewer. The Fork. The Discover Check.

For Westmont’s Kobe Ng, 9, “pawn storms” helped him win his first games at last weekend’s third annual Intercontinental Scholastic Team Championship at the Oak Brook DoubleTree hotel.

A pawn storm is a strategy that moves several pawns rapidly toward the opponent in order to overwhelm the defenses on one side of the chess table.

“Pawn storms kind of paid off for me,” Ng said Sunday after 3 1/2 wins for his Naperville Youth Chess Club. Naperville beat the Russians in the under 16-year-old category.

The Intercontinental Scholastic Team Championship was an all-kids tournament, which makes it unusual in the competitive chess world. About 120 kids from the Chicago area, Indiana, Kansas and St. Petersburg, Russia competed.

It also featured chess superstar, 12-time world champion Anatoly Karpov.

Willowbrook resident and event organizer Mikhail Korenman called Karpov “The Michael Jordan of chess.”

Karpov took time to address kids playing in the tournament and their parents. He recounted some of his greatest career moments, many of them during the Cold War when tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union. At one point, he and U.S. world champion Bobby Fischer were at the top of their respective games. A match-up between the two chess titans came close a number of times, but never happened.

Karpov told kids and parents them how he achieved his high level of play and how he thinks chess is a good activity for children in developing analytical skills, strategies, concentration and adjusting to challenges.

He also remembered fondly playing and beating 67 opponents at a downtown Chicago hotel in 1972, during the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev-U.S. President Richard Nixon era.

Karpov has become an ambassador of chess for children, with a school in Kansas and the Karpov International Chess Institute in Orland Park. He has founded 15 chess schools around the world.

“Your children, with the help of chess, will makes friends for life,” said the man from Zlatoust, Russia, who was a world champion for 16 years.

Karpov is also a member of the Russian parliament, the Duma, and met Monday with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart about his program of offering chess lessons to inmates, a program that has worked in other countries. Karpov also met with Naperville Mayor A. George Pradel to talk about chess in schools.

Still, the focus of the tournament was fostering friendships and chess as an intellectual discipline, according to Korenman.

By the end of the weekend, the Russians has swept three categories, but the Kansas kids, trained at the Anatoly Karpov International School of Chess in Lindsborg won the under 18-year-old category. Naperville teens won the under 16-year-old category.

Anna Styazhkina, 14, and eight other Russians from the St. Petersburg area were in New York and Chicago for 10 days on a chess tour.

“I was surprised by all the skyscrapers in Chicago; it was beautiful,” Styazhkina said.

The Russians had some Americans players, but not David Wang, 9, who played for Naperville.

“I never knew they were supposed to be so good so I wasn’t scared,” said Wang, who played with teammates Jonathan Li, Brian Gong and Patrick Rao.

Lisle resident Josh Godar, 18, played for Downers Grove North and said the Russians had them thinking.

“Pretty much, the Russians are acknowledged to be the best in the world,” Godar said. “But we did end up making friends (at the tournament).”

Shashank Bala, 11, of Buffalo Grove, and Kavin Lavari, 10, of Vernon Hills, both said it was their first tournament but “we did good for our first time,” and they also “made friends” at the tournament.

The Kansas contingent benefited from being a kind of focal point for Midwest chess, with its summer chess camp at Bethany College in Lindsborg. After the tournament, they turned around and drove 10 hours back home.

The tournament did count for players’ rankings, with scores sent to the U.S. Chess Federation and the World Chess Federation

So tensions could run high during the two days of matches, said Marck Cobb, president of the International Chess Institute of the Midwest, which operates the Karpov Chess School in Kansas.

Cobb said parents can sometimes get as intense as any soccer or football parents.

“The reason it gets so emotional is it’s a language and they develop an emotional tie to the language,” Cobb said. “That’s why they call chess both a sport and an art.


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