Lubbock, Texas – Using peanut M&M’s for currency, Tori Whatley, of Merriwether, hosted a blackjack party in her dorm room at Stangel Hall on the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. It didn’t take long for Helen Vaughn of New Mexico, and Utah’s Elisabeth Gondolo, to “shake down” Isabel James of Washington, D.C. and their new friend from South Carolina. Tori didn’t mind much though. It was just fun being surrounded by new friends…new friends that would play a role in her real purpose for being there.
Her goal was to have her best finish ever at the Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational Chess Tournament. Representing South Carolina for the third time, Strom Thurmond High School sophomore, Tori Whatley, realized that goal and set a new benchmark for S.C. Girl’s Chess. In her best Polgar performance to date, the 15 year-old posted 3 wins in the main event finishing 25th in a field of 46 girls, which for the first time, included international players from Brazil and Venezuela.
The Polgar camp and tournament, which took place July 24th through July 29th, were the culmination of a series of national and state competitions with over 3000 girls trying to qualify for one of the coveted seats at the most prestigious national girls chess event in the country. Tori punched her ticket to the tournament by being the highest scoring female in the high school section of the South Carolina Scholastic Chess Championships back in March.
During the first three days, the camp focused on intensive training. In all, the girls received fifteen hours of instruction by FIDE Master Paul Truong (2004 Coach and business manager for the 36th Chess Olympiad U.S. Women’s Team) and from Grandmaster Polgar herself. There were “warm up” events for the players during the first three days as well. Tori participated in a Puzzle-Solving Championship completing almost 13 difficult puzzles in 30 minutes. The Championship Blitz Tournament started slow for the Palmetto State Champion who lost the first two rounds.
Then she mounted back-to-back wins in the next three rounds for a scorching 9th place finish! South Carolina Chess Association president, David Grimaud and his wife, Maureen were present during the first three days providing encouragement for their state representative and snacks for the entire group. Susan acknowledged their support and thanked them for their generosity. The remaining three days were over-the-board competition between the girls. Mr. Frank Niro III, a former Executive Director of the U.S. Chess Federation, competently managed the tournament. Martha Underwood, the Chairperson for the Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational, served as assistant tournament director
In the first round, Tori faced a tough Texan named Clarissa Abella, who played the white pieces. They battled for 43 moves in an interesting Reti Opening. Tori put up a good fight against this much stronger opponent, but in the endgame, Clarissa was able to create a passed pawn, which she eventually promoted to a queen, dooming the S.C. Champ.
The second round would find Tori playing black, seated across from her blackjack nemesis Helen Vaughn. This King Pawn’s Opening would go for 45 moves with Tori avenging her M&M shake down at the tournament table.
Tori faced Vanita Young, of Pennsylvania, in the third round. This young lady had triumphed over 600 girls from her state to attend this event and almost didn’t make the trip due to financial constraints. U.S. Congressman Bob Brady took the reigns and made the arrangements complete. Although a rook up at one point, time trouble plagued Tori during the endgame. A blunder later, the quiet girl from Philadelphia seized control and methodically brought Tori to checkmate.
Tori’s fourth round opponent, Dyhemia Young of California took a more unconventional route to the Polgar. This Bay-area foster teen was a “wild card” invitee and her trek to the event was a Fox Network national news story. Like Vanita, she almost didn’t make the show, but FedEx covered the cost of the plane tickets while Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith provided the remainder of the funds necessary for her to compete. Tori played the black pieces against Dyhemia and controlled the game until its conclusion with the young lady from the Golden State resigning on her 41st move.
An old foe from the 2010 Polgar faced Tori in the fifth round. Louisiana’s Amelia Wyzywany totally dominated their meeting last year, but this time she was playing with a touch of the flu. The game turned into a 42-move battle in which the stronger Louisianan, despite being ill, prevailed. Tori was inspired by Amelia’s courage and spirit of competition.
Squaring off in the final round, Wisconsin’s Ananya Murali played white against Tori. This game was so important to both girls who were tied at two games each. A ferocious battle would ensue in which each player refused to give an inch. Approaching their time limits, both abandoned notating their moves around move 69. The players quickly pounded out moves and hit their clock. Tori had the upper hand while Ananya battled fiercely for a draw. Ultimately, Tori defeated her worthy opponent.
David Whatley, who serves as coach for the Merriwether Mavericks Scholastic Chess Club and as the S.C. Scholastic Chess Coordinator, accompanied Tori on the trip. On the 4th and 5th day, he played in a USCF-rated Parents and Friends tournament achieving two victories and improving his rating. He spoke concerning his daughter’s representation of our state and of the event itself, “Tori, as well as every girl there, represented their states with distinction. I was proud that she achieved a personal milestone, but the event itself is a celebration of milestones. Grandmaster Polgar has paved the way for any girl who wants to become World Champion to have the right to do so. Look into Susan’s story, and you’ll find that was impossible just twenty-six years ago”.
The Whatley’s received state and local support to attend the tournament and wished to thank the South Carolina Chess Association, GrayKnight Computing of Grovetown, Maner Builder’s Supply in Martinez, Whatley Construction of North Augusta, B & D Industrial in Augusta, and Barne’s Used Cars of Belvedere, as well as, Mr. Jim Garrett with SEW Eurodrive in Lyman, S.C. A host of individual supporters contributed directly or by purchasing Papa John’s pizza coupons. In one such incident, Tori’s former middle school principal called her to let her know that an Edgefield gentleman had dropped off a $100 donation at her old school after reading her story in the local press. These acts of kindness and support are touching, and encouraging, to the Whatley’s who are determined to growing a solid chess program in our community and state.