Miami Beach teen is a chess whiz
A 13-year-old in Miami Beach girl competes with older chess masters and is making a name for herself on the international circuit.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
By Saleha Riaz
No worries. Rachel had mapped out her position ahead of time. She felt confident.
“I was third-seeded, there were two people ahead of me, that meant I had a 33 percent chance — or one in three chances.”
Last year, Rachel won the 2010 North American Youth Chess Championship, in the girls’ under 12 category, in Montreal.
She is slated to receive the prestigious Woman Candidate Master title by the world chess federation, FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs).
Rachel was 5 when she started playing chess, after watching her father, who is passionate about the game, play with her older brothers. She was coached by former women’s world champion, Grand Master Alexandra Kosteniuk and US Champion, Grand Master Alexander Shabalov. Rachel now practices daily in sessions that can last for three hours.
While her brothers graduated from Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach, Rachel was taken out early because her mother, Dr. Angela Gologorsky, felt she was ready for more challenges.
“While her class would spend a week learning one letter of the alphabet, Rachel was already reading,” Gologorsky said. She explains that homeschooling Rachel meant that she could cover the course material much faster and leave plenty of time for other activities.
For example, chess.
This strategy also made it easy to travel for chess tournaments.
“I believe that playing chess improves concentration, and fosters creativity, pattern recognition and strategic planning. These skills have transferred well into Rachel’s studies,” she added.
Despite leaving the traditional classroom and her peers, Rachel feels she has been able to make friends from all over the country when she attends tournaments. E-mail and Skype also help her keep in touch with pals.
Rachel does not have a cell phone, but she feels she doesn’t need one as long as she has a laptop.
Chess isn’t everything in Rachel’s world, however. She speaks three languages, holds the rank of green belt in Shuri Ryu and Goju Ryu martial arts, plays tennis and the piano and recently completed courses in propositional and predicate calculus. (When asked what these were she replied, “You’ll find them on Wikipedia.”) She also studies University Calculus I and II from the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science — all with A+ grades.
Rachel is a contributing editor for FloridaCHESS magazine and will analyze one of her games in the November issue of Chess Life, the official US Chess Federation magazine.
Chess just might figure in Rachel’s future plans. Rachel said she would probably want to follow the family tradition and become a doctor, or perhaps a lawyer. “And, of course, to be a chess grandmaster, if I can.”
Chess in public schools
Though chess can’t compete with the widespread availability of intramural sports, some Miami-Dade public and private schools offer chess instruction or clubs. Ramon Sanchez, Title 1 chess supervisor for Miami-Dade Public Schools, said that 292 Tier 1 schools are eligible to start an afterschool chess program and about 180 opt for it. Currently, chess is accessible to about 4,700 children.
But about 100 schools do not have the program. Funding is not expressly provided for chess, although the schools could opt to apply Title 1 funding — federal dollars that go toward education — toward a chess program.
“They do it purely out of interest, that’s what’s so neat about the program,” said Sanchez. “We recommend at least three to five hours a week be spent tutoring children in chess, and the cost would be about $25 per hour, based on the teacher’s average hourly rates.”
Anyone can participate in the program although schools usually have only one teacher who knows the game well enough to teach it. Sanchez is happy that some schools have managed to introduce chess within the curriculum and he encourages the game because “chess has been linked with problem solving and encourages self-confidence.”
Barbara McManus, a retired school teacher, has been involved in teaching chess in Miami schools since the 1990s and says that chess not only stimulates children’s minds, it is a great “outlet for them if they are not into sports or not talented athletically.”