Polgar Girls’ World Open and Boys’ Chess Challenge
by Chase Watters

In the midst of carcinogenic smoke billows, scantily clad sirens, and incantations of inebriation, there lies a slender sliver of innocence. Beneath the rainbow-colored mounds of poker chips, and beyond the ace in the hole, is a group of young cognitive beasts who are not perusing the dark side, even if they do have cookies. Nay, this gregarious group of young lads and lassies are more enamored with pursuing the art of cognitive tae kwon do and having a blast doing it.

I was duly impressed by the vivacity, yet seriousness of the kids who participated in the Susan Polgar World Open for Girls and the Susan Polgar World Chess Challenge for Boys which took place from June 8-10, 2007; where what happened in Vegas, would be fruitful and multiply and not stay in Vegas.

There was a surge of tamed intensity filling the expansive room where the Susan Polgar events took place, as the youthful chessters silently duked it out. Although the participants’ parents played a never-ending game of peek-a-boo at the tourney door, the children of chess did not seem a bit fazed.

This is the second year that Susan has organized this special event as part of the Las Vegas International Chess Festival. This year, approximately 130 young guns from across the country and as far as England came to test their skills in the main events as well as various other categories for a share of over $100,000 in scholarships, cool prizes, chess items and humongous trophies. What separates this event with many other scholastic tournaments is the atmosphere. The camaraderie was obvious, in spite of the intense competition.

Unlike many other big scholastic tournaments, there is a close-knit feel to this one. Many youngsters were glued to their idol, GM Susan Polgar, for nearly four days. It is amazing to observe the connection and closeness between Susan and the young participants. She is one of the most unassuming reachable superstars in the game today. Besides the main championships, thrilling prizes, trophies and bragging rights were up for grabs in the blitz championship, puzzle-solving competition and simul. It is absolutely remarkable watching rows and rows of concentrating “kiddos,” ferociously focused for three days straight.

The co-ed blitz championship featured 42 young girls and boys. They battled hard. Every ounce of brain power and concentration was used for seven heart-palpitating rounds. There were the occasional giggles, “tee-hee-hees,” smirks, and funny faces but such is the life of these admirable kids. At the end, one girl and two boys (Sayaka Foley, Calvin Nguyen and Caleb Kircher) tied for the top spot with six points. Right after the puzzle solving championship, 30 lucky youthful geniuses took on GM Susan Polgar in the simultaneous exhibition.

They looked determined to score a full point. They all gave their best shots to take down the legend. Eventually, one by one, they succumbed to her experience and supremacy. It’s back to the drawing board until next time for these young lads and ladies. But don’t count them out as kids this age can improve dramatically in a very short time, and they may soon be on the hunt for GM scalps.

Another highlight of the festivities was the lecture by Susan Polgar for the parents, coaches and even some players from the National Open. A wide range of questions were asked and more than 150 inquisitive people showed up for this one hour session. It was by far the most popular lecture of the Las Vegas International Chess Festival.

There were a lot of interesting questions, some of which were:

• How do I help my child after a loss?
• How do I motivate my child to study chess?
• Which area of chess should my child concentrate on the most?

Polgar’s answer: “One of the biggest misconceptions in chess is that beginners or novice players should focus most of their studies in openings. I completely disagree. In all my years in chess, I have always recommended that players focus on tactics, endgames and middlegames first. As long as players follow the basic principles of chess, they are fine in the opening phase. Openings should only be stressed at above 1800 or 2000.”

• Is it good for my child to play a lot of blitz or bughouse?

Polgar’s answer: “Blitz is fine in moderate amounts. The benefit of playing blitz is it can give players more experience and sometimes confidence when it comes to time pressure. However, it should not be the main focus. In fact, playing too much blitz can actually hurt one’s play due to the lack of deep calculations. “If your children want to play bughouse for fun, it is OK. But just remember that it is not chess and it has no positive value for chess. In fact, I absolutely recommend no bughouse during a tournament.”

• What chess software do you recommend?
• How can I tell if a coach is good or not?
• How much time should my child devote to chess?
• How do I get chess into my child’s school?
• Does Internet chess help or hurt the chess development of my child?
• What chess books, software or DVDs do you recommend?

Some parents were taking notes. Some were listening attentively. Some were video taping every word Susan said. Overall, it was very informative and useful for all attendees. I was fascinated to find out the answers for myself. It is not every day that you can receive valuable tips from a world-class player and coach.

This was the second year that Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, was a sponsor for the Susan Polgar tournaments. This year, a total of three chess scholarships were awarded at the 2nd annual Susan Polgar World Open Championship for Girls and the 1st annual Susan Polgar World Chess Challenge for Boys in Las Vegas. Dr. Hal Karlsson, a Department of Geosciences professor from Texas Tech and I were there to represent the university and to answer questions from many parents and players.

The full article can be read on the USCF website or in the latest Chess Life.

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