CHILDREN TAKE ON CHESS GRANDMASTER
Fifth-ranked U.S. player visits school to give young players tips and encouragement, boost local club
Brahmin Brown didn’t waste any time.
Peering up at a chess grandmaster through his glasses, the Hillcrest Academy second-grader raised his hand and asked — point blank — when he’d get his opportunity to trade pawns with Varuzhan Akobian.
“I think I can beat him,” the 7-year-old Brown said with a smile as he awaited Akobian’s first move. “I’ve been in many chess matches.”
None like this, however. It was the debut event for the Temecula Chess Club, which organizers are hoping will serve as an up-and-coming regional destination for players looking to improve their United States Chess Federation ratings.
After a brief introduction to Akobian — a U.S. Olympic team coach and the fifth-ranked United States Chess Federation player — 20 Hillcrest students sidled up to chessboards in the school’s multipurpose room to await a simultaneous exhibition match against the 29-year-old Armenian pro.
Some kids rolled Hot Wheels cars along their boards while awaiting their turns; others studied their pieces furiously between moves in a kickoff event that chess club founders Guy Reams and Shawn O’Conner hope will help their new venture hit the ground running.
“There have been a lot of attempts to start something and they just haven’t taken off,” said Reams, who teaches computer science at Mt. San Jacinto College’s Menifee Valley campus. “We want to start something that will have the lasting power to stick around.”
Tuesday’s evening with a grandmaster was a start.
Akobian talked about his start in the game — which began at age 5 after his family moved to Mongolia, where inclement weather forced him to find indoor entertainment — and offered brief explanations of stalemates and pawn en passant captures.
A lecture on strategy came after Akobian’s coaching session with the children, followed by a question-and-answer session and another simultaneous exhibition against the adult crowd, some of whom Reams hopes to coax into the new club.
Of course, he didn’t expect that crowd to do much better than the kids’ showing against Akobian.
“He’s a bit of a rock star when it comes to chess,” said Reams, who took lessons from Akobian about a year ago. “He’ll go 20-0, most likely.”
The kids at Hillcrest, however, were unafraid as they stared across their boards at Akobian, who became an international grandmaster a week after his 20th birthday.
Most recently, he recorded first-place finishes at the American Open and the National Open in 2011, which made 11-year-old Dylan Barber’s early capture of Akobian’s bishop all that much more of an accomplishment.
Dylan smiled wide as he swept the piece off the board. Five moves later, Akobian had his queen and a clear path to a victory.
“It’s really hard to beat him,” said Dylan, a sixth-grader. “Chess is hard, and it takes years of training to be that good.”
Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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