The path to becoming world class in any endeavor isn’t always perceptible to those who would like to travel down it. Certainly those who have made it to the end of the path can look back and tell others how he or she got there.
Recently, a group of young nationally-ranked chess players from the United States were given such a chance by former world chess champion Veselin Topalov.
Traveling to Albena, Bulgaria, six young players were invited to attend the first American-Bulgarian Chess Camp at the end of July. Along with six other players from Bulgaria, the students received a week’s worth of grandmaster level chess instruction, practice games against similarly strong opponents, and a chance to challenge the former world champion in an event called a simultaneous exposition.
Also known as a “simul”, the events pit a player of exceptional skill against many other players of lesser skill. The challenge for the better player is that the opponents have much more time to think of each of their moves than he or she does.
There exists a tradition in chess where former world champions lose to young, future world champions in such simultaneous expositions. During the exposition in Bulgaria, Americans Andy Huang and Christopher Chen were able to draw their games. Bulgarian Stefan Raykov was able to defeat Topalov.
Afterwards, Topalov spoke with the students and gave them advice on how to improve their chess training. He emphasized the need to include physical activity and periods of rest away from the chessboard.
Partnering with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, the Foundation Topalov wanted the camp to have international character to emphasize to the students that they play a game shared among almost all of the world’s cultures. Hosting the camp on the Black Sea coast among the fertile, agricultural lands of eastern Bulgaria, the organizers were able to showcase local traditions and customs while providing an exotic environment for the students to enjoy.
After lunch breaks, students were able to swim, see the sights and play pickup games of bughouse — a variant of chess played with four players sharing pieces.
All this was possible because of the support of two generous partners — the U.S. Embassy in Sofia and the Paradise Blue Hotel in Albena, Bulgaria. It was due to their vision that our young students were able to make important strides down the road to excellence.
Indeed, upon their return to the United States, many of these same students competed in the U.S. Open and associated tournaments in Norfolk, Virginia. One of the camp participants, Christopher Shen, was able to win the Barber National Tournament of K-8 Champions to become the 2017 national grade school champion.
The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis would like to thank former world champion Veselin Topalov, Director Silvio Danailov, the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria, the Paradise Blue Hotel, Ruslan Yordanov, grand master grand master Krasimir Rusev, Maya Velcheva, and FIDE master Hristo Velchev. Their vision, generosity, and hospitality have made this inaugural chess camp an unforgettable experience and a great success for all participants.
Richard Pointer is a scholastic coordinator for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. He also serves as the assistant manager for the CCSCSL PRO Chess team, the Saint Louis Arch Bishops.