I was very impressed with this school and what they are doing for their students!
Students learn from chess champion’s challenges
Two hours and 15 minutes after the first chess move was made yesterday at New Hope Academy, 31 students had been defeated and one graduate was left standing side by side with a superstar of the game.
Susan Polgar, an international grand master and record-setting chess champion, methodically played simultaneous matches against 32 students. One by one, they fell, as Polgar repeatedly circled the tables, making one move after the next. But Andrew McCurdy of Lambertville managed to tie her.
“I felt quite lucky and fortunate because I played the opening pretty poorly,” said McCurdy, 19, a 2008 New Hope graduate who was invited back for the exhibition. “The only reason I was able to draw was because she was moving pretty quickly in a simultaneous exposition.”
Polgar, who became the top-ranked female chess player in the world at 15, visited the alternative school in Lower Makefield Township to talk about chess and her life story, and to play the game.
The coach and head of a chess institute at Texas Tech University has become an ambassador for the game, particularly encouraging girls to become involved in a sport dominated by boys and men.
“My parents had to fight for me to play chess,” Polgar, 40, said. Opponents, including Polgar’s grandparents, argued that dolls and other playthings were more appropriate.
But the Hungarian-born Polgar, who was taught by her father, conquered the board and proceeded to rack up the records. She became the first woman to earn the grandmaster title in competition against men using traditional World Chess Federation requirements, and in 1986 was also the first to qualify for the men’s World Chess Championship. Back then, the rules barred women from competing, but the next year, the International Chess Federation opened the tournament to women.
Polgar has founded a chess-education center in New York and started a foundation as well as several competitions for girls.
Polgar was invited to New Hope by the school’s Romanian-born coach, Lorand Bela Kis, who has led the school to championship-level play at local, state, and national competitions.
Chess has been a vital part of the school for 10 years, president Kathleen Rosso-Gana said. New Hope Academy, which includes grades six to 12, is a school for students who have behavioral problems and learning disabilities. The school has a total of 130 students at its Lower Makefield and Doylestown campuses.
“I saw our students’ impulsivity,” Gana said. Chess helped them “to stop, make decisions and once they make it, they have to take the consequences.” The game boosted confidence, leadership, and decision-making, Gana said.
Yesterday, members of the team were among the 32 who played against Polgar. Of the 32, three were girls.
“Well, that’s not uncommon,” Polgar said. “But I’ve seen better [numbers].”
Rachel Friter, 18, and Jenny Grosman, 16, sat next to each other in the square pattern of tables set up for the match. Alex Yacker, 19, was flanked by boys.
“I’m trying to think positively – as much as possible,” Yacker said before the match.
Friter and Grosman said they had experienced some of the things that Polgar mentioned in her talk. Friter says she has been called “superficial, not the brightest bulb.” Grosman has felt intimidated playing against boys.
But the game offers rewards and is helpful beyond the game, the girls said.
At yesterday’s event, the girls were among an audience of students and teachers who watched a film about Polgar’s career and then listened as the chess champion answered questions.
The match began about 11:55 a.m., with Polgar shaking the hand of each opponent at the start.
“I was lost” in the beginning, McCurdy said. But the graduate, who is deciding what his next move will be outside school, regained his footing. When the exposition was over, the room was quiet, McCurdy said. There was no boisterous celebration.
“I offered her the draw, and she accepted,” McCurdy said. “We shook hands and she said ‘good game.’ “
By Kristin E. Holmes
Inquirer Staff Writer
(There were a few small inaccuracies in the introduction)
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– GM Susan Polgar