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The 10-Year-Old Chess Master

Chess was a big thing for me when I was a child. My mother taught me the game basics at about the age of three, before I had figured out how to read. By the age of five I was beating the family, and then really moved into the game by the 3rd grade with a teacher supporting me and entrance into tournaments. I was by no means a master, or even that great; I was skilled among amateurs and okay among regulars, for my age. At most I could see four or five moves down the line; never more, often less. After a disagreement with the US Chess Federation at a tournament when I was some eleven or twelve years old, I (now amusingly) "retired" from tournaments and spent most of the following decade teaching chess at a few schools and playing a few times a year with friends or family. I finally rejoined the federation last fall, and played in a USCF-ranked tournament last month for the first time in a long time. It felt good. I was slow to get back into the mindset needed to excel at chess, and easily overcome by weaknesses that I would have been embarrassed by back in my tournament days. By the final game I was back into the swing of things, and after it entirely exhausted. The mind is something that needs to be exercised, especially if you are going to take it out to battle like that.

Ever since Bobby Fischer initiated a sort of chess renaissance in our country that, at least for a short while, almost rivaled half as much the obsession that the Russians have with the game, the average age of chess masters--those who accumulate so many points in USCF ranked games--has steadily lowered. Fischer was the youngest master for quite some time, earning the title at the age of thirteen. While there have been younger since, the difference of course is that Fischer went on to dominate the world of chess and famously annihilate the Russians on the world stage; no one has ever played like he did, and if not for the unfortunate madness and hatred that consumed him in his later life, I think he would still be remembered as a hero of sorts for our nation in the way other great athletes and thinkers are. There are constantly new prodigies stepping up, though. Take, for example, ten-year-old Sam Sevian, who became the youngest chess master ever at the age of nine. He, like the other greats, did not resist the temptation that the game offers those who are drawn to it; his mother comments that chess is almost the boy's life. He is obsessed with it; it is all he reads and all he does. Obsession is the only way to succeed at it. Part of me envies him for that. He'll be taking a class with Kasparov, probably the greatest living master, this summer. Good for him. (He'll need help defending his title from a few ambitious 8-year-olds next!) I congratulate him on his achievement and wish him luck on his continued pursuit of excellence in the game.
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