Prodigy checkmates his partner DOUG MOE | Wisconsin State Journal
This is what it is like being the sparring partner of a prodigy.
On Oct. 3, in a reserved room at the Sequoya library, Dennis Doren, a 59-year-old retired Madison psychologist, and accomplished tournament chess player, sat down for a series of five-minute games of speed chess.
His opponent was a fourth-grade student at Van Hise Elementary School, 9-year-old Awonder Liang. He and Doren have been playing a couple of times a month since February.
A usual game of speed chess is played with a clock that requires each player to make all moves within five minutes.
At one point on Oct. 3, however, Awonder mentioned that he likes one-minute games better.
Doren had no interest in the frightening pace of a one-minute game, but he told Awonder that if he wished to play in one minute, he could, while Doren would keep to the five-minute limit.
“And he beat me,” Doren wrote, later that night, in a note to an acquaintance.
Doren had been beaten by a 9-year-old who took less than a minute to plan and execute all his moves. The older man felt a little side-swiped. It happens to the sparring partner of a chess prodigy. There are no boxing gloves, but it can still sting.
Of course, a front-row seat to youthful greatness also offers rich rewards, which is why Doren first got in touch with the Liang family late last year.
Though not yet 10, Awonder is becoming known in chess circles around the world.
Last December, New York Times chess columnist Dylan Loeb McClain took note of Liang in a piece that began: “America has a new world champion, and he is only 8 years old.”
Awonder and his father, Will Liang, had just returned from Brazil, where in late November Awonder won the under-8 division (age is measured as of Jan. 1) title in the World Youth Chess Championships (WYCC), the most prestigious youth chess tournament in the world.
Since then, Awonder has continued to turn heads in the chess world. In June, he was the youngest player (of eight) invited to St. Louis for a private tutorial with the great Russian champion Garry Kasparov.
The following month, at a tournament in Washington, D.C., Awonder became the youngest chess player in history to defeat a grandmaster in a sanctioned tournament game with standard time limits.
Doren, who has taught chess professionally, got in touch with Will Liang around the time the Times piece ran last December, offering to play Awonder in Madison on a regular basis.
Doren felt teaching Awonder long-term was beyond him. “But I thought I might have a small window of opportunity to teach him a little something.”
That has happened. Will Liang said Doren has served his son as a mentor. “The relationship has helped Awonder’s development,” Will said.
Doren is reluctant to be called a mentor. His young opponent is too good and progressing too quickly.
Doren said the first time they played, last February, he was dismayed when Awonder walked in the room.
“He was just a little kid,” Doren recalled. Then they sat down to play. Awonder set his pieces with speed and assurance. “As an opponent,” Doren said, “he was an adult.”
Yet by all accounts he has remained a modest and charming little boy. “He has clear confidence about himself,” Doren said. “But he takes it all in stride. He likes to laugh. It’s a pleasure to interact with him.”
Last year, Awonder was asked what he thought about at the moment in Brazil when he realized he was a world champion.
“I wanted to go to the water park,” he said. “But it was raining.”
Next month, Will and Awonder Liang have plans to attend this year’s WYCC tournament in Slovenia. It’s expensive, and the Liang family is not wealthy.
To that end, Doren has set up an online fund to help the Liangs with travel expenses.
Contributions can be made at indiegogo.com; type “chess” in the search box.
Sign up for my free email chess course for Beginners and Club Players. In this free course, I focus on helping beginner chess players see the entire board. You will learn how to attack your opponent from move 1 and create a new threat with every single move! I’ve created this series of lessons designed to help beginner and club level players understand the game at a deeper level so that you can start beating higher rated players immediately. Start getting free tips from me directly to your inbox!