On chess: The secret to success in Batumi? A good daddy! | St. Louis Public Radio

On chess: The secret to success in Batumi? A good daddy!

Nov 10, 2016

The U.S. team did amazing in Batumi for the World Youth Championship, winning two gold and one silver medal from six sections. Both our gold medal winners, Rochelle Wu in Girls under-10 and Nikhil Kumar in Open U-12, went on a tear after my mid-tournament report following round 6. After the free day, Nikhil won four consecutive games to guarantee first place with one round to go. Rochelle drew for the last time in round 7, then took four games en route to the title.

This was in fact Nikhil’s first World Youth Championship, and he is entering a very small group of those who’ve managed to win it on their first attempt! Nikhil, who lives in Miami, said he did not come into the tournament expecting to win (he started out as the 25th seed, close to 400 points lower than the top seed R Praggnanandhaa), but that his confidence grew as the tournament progressed.

Gold medal winners: Rochelle Wu in Girls under-10 and Nikhil Kumar in Open under -12
Credit Irina Krush

Indeed, that trajectory is visible through his games; Nikhil survived a completely losing position in round 2, and even won a much worse position in round 3. In the second half, Nikhil didn’t need that sort of luck to accumulate points.

Like Nikhil, Rochelle also entered the second half having a lot of work to do. I asked Rochelle’s father, Lizhi Wu, what the secret was to Rochelle’s success in Batumi. At the moment, another parent, a friend of his, was standing nearby and offered his insight: “a good daddy!” This made everyone smile, but it’s completely true: Many factors have to come together for a child to be successful in chess, but the overarching requirement is parental support, and in chess, that often comes from fathers, whether they play chess or not.

His friend continued, “Tell her how many hours you spend driving to tournaments.”

There are few tournaments for Rochelle to play in Birmingham, Alabama. So, on a weekly basis, she travels to nearby states to play. In the two weekends prior to the World Youth she played in: Atlanta, Georgia (146 miles from Birmingham) and Winston Salem, North Carolina (464 miles away from Birmingham, a drive of seven hours).

Summer tournaments of Rochelle’s include the Indianapolis Open, 480 miles away and the Ocala Summer Classic in Florida, 510 miles away. Lizhi’s friend half joked that he should have a gas credit card.

Despite these distances, Rochelle is playing in tournaments every week. It’s an incredible amount of dedication, and probably just studying her tournament history on uschess.org is enough to understand why she became a World Champion in Batumi. GM John Fedorowicz, who worked with Rochelle in Batumi, said that Rochelle “has a good personality, isn’t nervous, and is a lot of fun. She’s tough.” Indeed, the seriousness and determination that emanate from her when she sits at the board is striking.

It should also be mentioned that Rochelle has a big supporter in her chess-playing older brother Sijing who is happy to share ideas with her: “he thinks he’s her coach!” There are many examples in the chess world of a younger sibling benefiting from the experience of the older one.

For me, it was great to meet so many of our nation’s brightest young talents (and their parents!), to watch their games, and root for their success. Go USA!

Our gold medalists Kumar and Wu

GM Irina Krush is a five-time U.S. Women's Champion: 2013, 2012, 2010, 2007, 1998 (youngest winner ever at age 14). She was also a member of the 2004 Silver Medal U.S. Olympiad Team and 2008 Bronze Medal Team. Irina has a degree in international relations from NYU, but she is currently concentrating on chess.