SPFGI Alice Dong

Essay by Alice Dong, the 2nd time champion of SPF Girls’ Invitational. (She wrote this yesterday before knowing that she had a chance to win)

After playing chess for maybe a year in the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, I stared in amazement as I arrived at the Susan Polgar Girls National Open tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas. There were ballrooms upon ballrooms of just rows of tables with chess sets on top. There, I played and won my first ever all-girls tournament – well, I tied for first, but that’s close enough for a nine year-old who was the only one able to defeat the first seed. For the first time ever, I just knew that chess was what I wanted to do, not dance or gymnastics or any other ‘girly’ activity.

That was 2007. Five years later, I found myself invited to be the New Jersey representative for the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational. In those five years, I never played in an all-girls tournament outside of the local New Jersey Girls Junior – where the open section was maybe ten people on a good year. When I arrived at the St. Louis airport for the first time ever, I felt that heart-wrenching pressure to win as the top seed. But something was different when I stepped on campus and the pre-tournament events began. For the first time ever, I was there not to win, not to just eat, sleep, chess. I went into the tournament with no friends, and just one acquaintance who I had met while in Greece for the World Youth Chess Championships two years prior. I came out of the tournament with at least a dozen new friends, most of which I still keep in touch with even today.

Four days ago, I again found myself here, in St. Louis. When I first accepted the invitation, all my friends asked me why I would even consider returning – it’s my last summer before college and I’ve already won the title, so why take that week out of my life to come back and risk losing that 2100 rating I’d finally achieved after four years? Shouldn’t I be relaxing on a beach somewhere, enjoying my last taste of freedom before I become shackled to college life? To be honest, I asked myself these questions even while I was on the flight here, but as I settled into my dorm room, I remembered the excitement of the tournament, the friendliness of the organizers and the fellow players and I knew I made the right decision to come back.

In a way, it feels only right that I end my scholastic career here at the 13th annual Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational after launching it at the foundation’s National Open nine years earlier. It’s taught me that tournaments are not just a battleground – it’s a place to experience immersing oneself in chess completely for the first time ever, or a place to realize you’re not the only girl who loves this game, even if you are the only one in your school or even state. The SPFGI is an event that inspires, not only pushing me to keep playing chess, but also pushing me to promote chess with the NJ All-Girls Chess Camp.

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SPFGI Veronika Zilajeva

Essay by Veronika Zilajeva (Another co-champion of 2016 SPFGI)

When you ask a chess player what they want from a chess tournament, many of them would say win, or at least get your rating up. People don’t expect anything else, but the chess games from the tournament. Also, as you play, you are so focused on the games, you start to get tired and dislike chess.

One thing that I love about Susan Polgar Girls Invitational is we get to meet other participants, spend some time before the actual tournament starts, thus making new friends and creating more relaxed and fun atmosphere.

Right from the start, in the airport when you arrive, you are feeling welcome. A member of the SPICE team, or organization will meet you, and take to the dorms. By showing how much they care about you and how good they treat you, makes you wonder “Do they even sleep?” .

Keeping in mind that this is a very strong tournament, and every year it only get stronger and more competitive, when the time comes to choose what tournament will I play this year, I always have one in mind that I don’t want to miss and it is SPFGI.

When you talk about this tournament, you can’t forget about the all side events. It’s always good to take a break from the serious chess and have some fun at least once in a while. The Family & Friends event is also very important to this tournament, it adds a little completion touch for the parents and some younger siblings who can’t play in the main tournament. Since I’ve been to some tournaments with my parents, I have a little idea how nervous they feel when I play. Giving them an opportunity to play for fun and have some fun as well, and maybe the idea how players are feeling when they play an actual game, brings parents and kids even closer together because of the similar experiences.

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Essay by Charity Farell

I stood in the middle of the auditorium, unsure of where to go as girls buzzed around me from every direction. There were 64 of us, girls from all across the country, all in the same room with the same goal of being the nation’s top scholastic female chess player. The emotions in the room were all over the place. Some of us radiated nervous energy while others were bouncing with excitement. I was one of the nervous ones. I’d been to chess tournaments before, but none nearly as big as this one. This was the Susan Polgar National Girls Invitational Tournament.

I was hoping the feeling of anxiousness would leave. It didn’t. My fellow competitors were all talking to each other about who they were playing. Some were happy, because they were playing people with much lower ratings than their own. Others looked terrified – these were the girls playing high-rated opponents. I didn’t know who I was playing yet; I was still trying to gain the courage to look. It seemed like forever to find my name listed. My eyes grew wide with fear when I saw my opponent, who was rated twice as high as I was. “Oh no, I’m playing her!” I nervously thought. “Wait, that’s not my last name,” I sighed with relief.  I scanned the paper again. Just as I was feeling grateful I found my name and was horrified that I was actually playing a girl rated even higher than the one I originally thought! I looked over at her rating again thinking maybe it would shrink under my gaze. It didn’t.

As I approached my seat I saw my opponent already sitting down. I smiled in hopes that it would cover up my nervousness. “Hi, how are you?” I asked shyly. “I’m great! How about you?” she replied confidently. “U-uh gr-great,” I stuttered. “Why am I acting so shy? I never act like this,” I thought to myself. “Don’t be nervous. It’s just a game,” she assured me. I took a sip of my water and nodded. Suddenly I heard a voice as the tournament director went over the rules. “Please shake your opponent’s hand and begin,” she concluded.

My opponent whispered “good luck” and made her first move. Click. Her hand hit the clock and it was my turn. I thought for three minutes before making my move. I looked around the room, once loud with excitement but now filled with silence. As I listened more intently, I almost could hear the girls concentrating.  I was startled as my opponent said, “Check!” My first piece was taken. My second national tournament and I was convinced I was going to come in last place. As I sat there staring at the board, not feeling much confidence, I thought about my Dad and his encouraging words– “believe in yourself, don’t give up. Just do your best and that’s all you can do.” I made my next move.

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Essay by Cassie Parent

This year marks my fifth time attending this event.  Each time, I’m astounded by the level of competition. In my town, I’m the only girl who competitively plays chess, and it gets lonely.  I’ve been tempted to quit playing for the sole reason that kids wouldn’t talk to me and would tease me.  Susan Polgar has been a key role model for me from a young age.  I still own a chess board that she signed for me when I was in the first grade.  She said something in my first year attending this event that has always stuck with me.  Paraphrasing the exact words, Polgar said, “There is no reason that girls should be worse at chess than boys.”  These words gave me confidence and allowed me to continue my pursuit of chess.  Now I’m going into eleventh grade, and I continue to play chess in high school.  The sexism never ended, but nor did my passion.  This passion stems from me attending this event.  It’s inspiring to watch all of these girls follow the same passion as me, and it only wants to make me work harder.

But despite all of this, the chess tournament isn’t the reason I keep returning.  I attend school in the Chicago suburbs; I could go to a tournament every weekend if I wanted to.  In addition, All Girls Nationals is held near me, in Chicago, every year.  I return to the Susan Polgar Girls’ Invitational for the people.  This tournament has allowed me to live with some of the brightest girls in the country for one week each year.  Girls who are all fun to be around through talking and laughing and playing blitz and bughouse.  I’ve met people who have lived all over the country, but also across the world, in places such as Latvia, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Canada, and Mexico.

I’ve been happy with my results every time I’ve attended this tournament, but winning games and gaining rating points isn’t really what this event is about.  It’s about one of the girls I met five years ago is now my roommate and best friend.  It’s about every time I scroll through Instagram or log into chess.com I see everything these amazing girls are doing.  It’s about knowing that I can do amazing things too.  Five years ago, I wouldn’t have had this confidence.  Chess has given me the patience, analytical skills, and problem-solving ability that I need to succeed at any task I may be confronted with.  However, this tournament granted me the social skills needed to talk to and form relationships with people who come from all different backgrounds.  These social skills are what is going to allow me to achieve whatever I put my mind to, including being successful at whatever career I choose.  These values of hard work and forming important relationships are just a couple of the many lessons I have learned from attending this wonderful event, and I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to attend this tournament every day.

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Essay by Gauri Menon

My experience at the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational Tournament 2016 has been awesome. It has truly been an honor to be selected to play in an international tournament. The fact that it is a girls-only tournament makes it even more special.

This is my first-ever invitation to the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational tournament. When my coach told me that I will be getting the invitation, it gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. It is an honor to represent Wisconsin at the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Tournament 2016. All the hard work that I have put in has finally paid off. This gives me a chance to showcase my skills and test myself against other strong players from across the world. Regardless of the results in this tournament, I believe that the experience gained at this tournament will benefit me in the long run.

Also, it has been a great experience to meet other girls of similar age and interests (especially chess) and develop long lasting relationships.

As far as the tournament and the training itself goes, I really enjoyed the training session on the first day. It was quite informative and gave me several tips on how to improve my chess preparations. The puzzle solving tournament was fun as well. Having not played blitz too much, it was quite an experience for me during the blitz tournament and gave me a new perspective on things. The main tournament was conducted well. Everyone on the staff was quite professional and friendly at the same time. It felt like I am part of a giant family – with more than 50 girls!

So far, it has been a memorable tournament and I will cherish this opportunity for a long time. I thank you for giving me this opportunity and allowing me gain this experience.

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My Experience at the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls’ Invitational Tournament

Essay by Triyakshari Venkataraja

My experience at the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls’ Invitational has been one that I had never imagined. I loved the overall proficiency and aptitude that this year’s event has offered me. In the duration of only a few days, I have learned innumerable things and improved my thinking process and preparation by gathering ideas from coaches that are top players and great teachers at the same time.

Next, I’d say that the SPFGI scholarships given out each year motivated me throughout the tournament. I still recall from last year that there were great amounts of money earned by strong female players and a total of two hundred thousand dollars given away. There were also prizes given to the bughouse and blitz tournaments.

The format of the tournament is as perfect as it should be. Every rule was explicitly explained until crystal clear and stated until there was not a single doubt lingering in the room. I also greatly enjoyed and took tremendous interest in the tactics, blitz and bughouse tournaments. They were super fun and engrossing. Some of the games were a little bit tough, I must say, but helped me challenge myself to correct my mistakes and get better.

Best of all, being invited by the great Women’s World Champion Susan Polgar, the very first woman to gain the title of grandmaster, is a rare privilege. The thought that I had been invited by Susan Polgar herself made me think that I was dreaming. Young girls who currently have titles such as women’s fide master came to and participated in this very same tournament many years ago when they were little girls. I know that I and many other girls at this tournament made friends and allies not only with their opponents and bughouse partners, but with many other coral girls as well.

I truly hope that everyone who came to this year’s Susan Polgar Foundation Girls’ Invitational Tournament from across the globe, young or old, first timers or players who have been coming for several years, helpful arbiters, families and friends, thoroughly enjoyed this tournament as much as I did, found great happiness and built fond memories that will last throughout a lifetime. I really do look forward to coming again next year as a stronger player from North Carolina by utilizing what I learnt here at SPFGI.

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