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Young chessmen

“You only get mismatches like that in this tournament”

Twenty-eight silent but titanic struggles.
Twenty-eight silent but titanic struggles.

It’s a little after 7 pm on January 2nd, and the San Diego Chess Club is holding the club champtionship qualifying round in its mid-century Balboa Park digs along Sixth Avenue just north of Ivy. “May the force be with you and guide you in your game,” says a dreadlocked middle-aged man to his younger opponent. Both began playing chess in the Navy. Besides them, there are three other blacks here, and three Asians, and two women. Twenty of the nearly 60 heads are gray or bald.

Andrew Wang

Thirty minutes pass in huge silence. Several players stand between moves, regarding the board from a greater distance and a loftier perspective. Everybody keeps track of their game, either on apps or in notebooks. The first match to conclude — just a half-hour or so after starting — is between Andrew Wang (1983 rating) and James Harris (1351). “You only get mismatches like that in this tournament,” says Chess Club Vice President Chuck Ensey. “But there’s always an upset somewhere.” Not here. “He blundered early in the opening, and I started attacking,” says Wang. “He pinned his bishop to his F7 pawn; he couldn’t move it or else it would have been checkmate. I just pushed my E pawn and won the piece. After that, he let me attack too violently and had to give up his queen to defend. He was completely losing, so he resigned.” The end was clear to both — Wang says he will think four to five moves ahead in average situations, and “calculate deeper” when he’s figuring out if a particular sacrifice is worth it.

Wang is 10; he started playing chess when he was in first grade. “There was a chess program in my local library in Carmel Mountain Ridge, and when I played my first game, I really liked it. I liked how the pieces moved.”

While Andrew talks, fellow player Ming Lu enters the room. Ming Lu is listed at a 2184 rating on the tournament sheet, but online he’s at 2217; he recently gained the title of National Master. He is 13, and currently rated #32 in the country in the under-14 bracket. He’s bored, wants to go home, asks Andrew what he’s going to do while they wait.

“May the force be with you.”

Lu and Wang share a pair of coaches. “My favorite coach is a Chinese International Master (2400 rating),” says Wang. “He’s like me; we both really like attacking. Our games are really fun for tactics. My other coach plays solid and waits for the opponent to blunder. I meet with each of them once a week, and probably spend two hours a day on chess.” The solid coach, the one Wang says Lu plays like, “lets me choose some games to review. My Chinese coach gives me puzzles, tactical exercises where you try to find if there’s a combination of moves you can use. You try to solve them, and also to find out how you can use them in your own games.”

Ming Lu asks, “Andrew, you do puzzles for him?”

“Yeah, don’t you get them too?”

“I don’t get them any more; I stopped like a month ago. He says I’m too good for them now. Now he just makes me practice, and he’s like, ‘You have no homework,’ and I’m like, ‘Yay.’”

“Oh,” says Wang.

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Twenty-eight silent but titanic struggles.
Twenty-eight silent but titanic struggles.

It’s a little after 7 pm on January 2nd, and the San Diego Chess Club is holding the club champtionship qualifying round in its mid-century Balboa Park digs along Sixth Avenue just north of Ivy. “May the force be with you and guide you in your game,” says a dreadlocked middle-aged man to his younger opponent. Both began playing chess in the Navy. Besides them, there are three other blacks here, and three Asians, and two women. Twenty of the nearly 60 heads are gray or bald.

Andrew Wang

Thirty minutes pass in huge silence. Several players stand between moves, regarding the board from a greater distance and a loftier perspective. Everybody keeps track of their game, either on apps or in notebooks. The first match to conclude — just a half-hour or so after starting — is between Andrew Wang (1983 rating) and James Harris (1351). “You only get mismatches like that in this tournament,” says Chess Club Vice President Chuck Ensey. “But there’s always an upset somewhere.” Not here. “He blundered early in the opening, and I started attacking,” says Wang. “He pinned his bishop to his F7 pawn; he couldn’t move it or else it would have been checkmate. I just pushed my E pawn and won the piece. After that, he let me attack too violently and had to give up his queen to defend. He was completely losing, so he resigned.” The end was clear to both — Wang says he will think four to five moves ahead in average situations, and “calculate deeper” when he’s figuring out if a particular sacrifice is worth it.

Wang is 10; he started playing chess when he was in first grade. “There was a chess program in my local library in Carmel Mountain Ridge, and when I played my first game, I really liked it. I liked how the pieces moved.”

While Andrew talks, fellow player Ming Lu enters the room. Ming Lu is listed at a 2184 rating on the tournament sheet, but online he’s at 2217; he recently gained the title of National Master. He is 13, and currently rated #32 in the country in the under-14 bracket. He’s bored, wants to go home, asks Andrew what he’s going to do while they wait.

“May the force be with you.”

Lu and Wang share a pair of coaches. “My favorite coach is a Chinese International Master (2400 rating),” says Wang. “He’s like me; we both really like attacking. Our games are really fun for tactics. My other coach plays solid and waits for the opponent to blunder. I meet with each of them once a week, and probably spend two hours a day on chess.” The solid coach, the one Wang says Lu plays like, “lets me choose some games to review. My Chinese coach gives me puzzles, tactical exercises where you try to find if there’s a combination of moves you can use. You try to solve them, and also to find out how you can use them in your own games.”

Ming Lu asks, “Andrew, you do puzzles for him?”

“Yeah, don’t you get them too?”

“I don’t get them any more; I stopped like a month ago. He says I’m too good for them now. Now he just makes me practice, and he’s like, ‘You have no homework,’ and I’m like, ‘Yay.’”

“Oh,” says Wang.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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