Saturday, October 25, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;46.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-10-25 00:10:58
Monday, July 14, 2014

This week: The most impressive collection of female chess talent ever gathered in NH history

David Brooks

The most impressive collection of female chess talent in the history of New Hampshire is coming to Manchester this week, including two 10-year-olds who are vying for chess master status.

The first ever United States Girls Junior Closed Championship, for women under age 20, will run from Thursday, July 17, through the weekend at UNH-Manchester. It’s a U.S. Chess Federation-sponsored event – results count in terms of international rankings – that features a $2,000 cash prize and $10,000 scholarship for the winner. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

The most impressive collection of female chess talent in the history of New Hampshire is coming to Manchester this week, including two 10-year-olds who are vying for chess master status.

The first ever United States Girls Junior Closed Championship, for women under age 20, will run from Thursday, July 17, through the weekend at UNH-Manchester. It’s a U.S. Chess Federation-sponsored event – results count in terms of international rankings – that features a $2,000 cash prize and $10,000 scholarship for the winner.

It will have 10 players, including two from New England, none from New Hampshire. They have the sort of chess-rating scores associated with professionals, including a number who have reached the category of master. This will be serious chess, indeed.

The tournament was created by a Bedford couple whose firm, Relyea Chess, has sponsored chess tournaments in the Northeast for years.

“One of the things that we noticed that they have all-boys junior national tournament but they didn’t have one for girls,” said Nita Patel. She organized the tournament with her husband, F. Alex Relyea, who is associated with the World Chess Federation, known as FIDE for its initials in French.

Getting more girls and women interested in chess has been a goal for as long as I’ve paid attention to chess, which is pretty much my whole life.

In high school, I even played in a few U.S. Chess Federation-sponsored tournaments. (Don’t be impressed: It just requires an entry fee.) I didn’t exactly set the board on fire.

You started off with a USCF score of 1,000 and went up or down depending on results in sanctioned tournaments. Over time, I peaked at around 1,200 – way below 1,500, the score where casual players started fading away, and the 1,800 level where pros took over – and then I faded.

By college, when I stopped playing regularly, I had fallen below 1,000, which is like running a 100-yard dash and ending up 102 yards away from the finish line. At my last tournament I was assigned to play on a wobbly table in the dimmest corner of the room, amid the first-timers and one guy who thought we were going to play checkers.

In all those games I never faced a female opponent, and in any given tournament the number of people lacking a Y chromosome was minimal.

Things have gotten a little more balanced since then, thanks partly to the success of the astonishing Polgar sisters, of Hungary, but competitive chess remains overwhelmingly male. Why?

“I’m an engineer. I think it’s similar reasons why they aren’t more women in engineering,” said Patel. “They don’t get exposed to it; there are not a lot of role models. When girls think about things they want to do, it doesn’t come up.”

My personal opinion, backed up by nothing except guesswork, is that the average male gets more pleasure than the average female out of beating another individual in a zero-sum situation like chess. That extra shot of endorphin in the brain provides more incentive to spend the hours of study and practice needed for chess at high levels.

Even if this difference is real, I don’t know why it exists – it could easily be due to culture and lack of female role models. All the more reason to celebrate this championship.

The tournament will be a round-robin, in which everybody plays everybody else. That’s an exhausting amount of chess over four days, since games at this level last a long time – you have two hours to make your first 40 moves – and require intense concentration.

The winner will be certified as a national champion by the USCF but won’t get an automatic invitation to the national chess championship competition, as happens with the boys junior tournament, but Patel hopes that this will change when they have a contest under their belt.

Relyea Chess is absorbing most of the costs for the tournament, with UNH-Manchester offering the scholarship, but players have to pay their own travel and hotel costs. Playing chess is no way to get rich.

For chess fans, UNH-Manchester will set up a web feed and a video feed to a nearby room, allowing aficionados to kibbutz and learn. Check Relyea Chess’ website (relyea
chess.com/subpages/games.html
) to watch.

GraniteGeek appears Mondays in The Telegraph. David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@granitegeek).