Youngest US chess mas­ter: I’ve got to work on my endgame

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

GREEN­WICH: At age 10, Max­imil­lian Lu is the youngest-ever chess mas­ter in the U.S. Even so, he sees room for im­prove­ment.

The dis­tinc­tion of be­ing a na­tional mas­ter be­longs to less than 2 per­cent of US Chess Fed­er­a­tion mem­bers and is earned by rack­ing up at least 2,200 points in com­pe­ti­tions. It’s a rar­ity among chil­dren, but Lu shrugs it off, say­ing he needs to work on his endgame.

“It’s all right. I have to im­prove other stuff,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view. Max, who plays 45 min­utes to an hour a day, and an hour or two on week­ends or be­fore ma­jor tour­na­ments, started play­ing chess in an af­ter­school pro­gram when he was 6 and has com­peted in tour­na­ments in Toronto, South Africa and Dubai, and he rep­re­sented the United States in Greece this month.

Climb­ing the ranks has been dif­fi­cult, he said. In matches with in­creas­ingly tough com­pe­ti­tion, am­bi­tious ri­vals are al­ways “com­ing up be­hind you,” he said. Max be­came the youngest-ever chess mas­ter in Septem­ber, at 9 years, 11 months and 2 days, ac­cord­ing to the US Chess Fed­er­a­tion. He top­pled the record at­tained in 2013 by Awon­der Liang of Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, who be­came the youngest mas­ter at 9 years, 11 months and 15 days.

Young chess play­ers now are stronger than in the past, due partly to on­line chess games that al­low play­ers to prac­tice alone and to ef­forts by schools, clubs and oth­ers to draw more play­ers, said Jean Hoff­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the U.S. Chess Fed­er­a­tion.

For Max’s par­ents, sup­port­ing their son’s in­ter­est is not much dif­fer­ent from what soc­cer moms and dads do, trav­el­ing from one com­pe­ti­tion to the next. “We didn’t plan any­thing out,” said his fa­ther, David Lu. “It just sort of hap­pened.”

‘Psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pects’

An adult’s per­spec­tive also makes a dif­fer­ence. Lu said he helps his son han­dle what he calls the “psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pects” of chess, or main­tain­ing a bal­ance “be­tween seem­ing mentally tough be­tween los­ing a game and com­ing back to play an­other game.”

If ap­proached the wrong way, com­pet­i­tive chess can be a “high-pres­sure thing,” David Lu said. Ian Har­ris, man­ager of the Chess Club of Fair­field County in Nor­walk, and Bryan Quick, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mar­shall Chess Club in New York - sites fre­quented by Lu - say the game has ex­ploded in pop­u­lar­ity in the past decade, par­tic­u­larly among young­sters.

In ad­di­tion to ubiq­ui­tous af­ter­school chess pro­grams, char­ter schools are tak­ing up chess in the class­room. Ed­u­ca­tors say the game teaches logic and crit­i­cal and an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing skills and the abil­ity lose grace­fully.

“If kids stick to it long enough, their con­cen­tra­tion is im­proved,” said Ronelle Swa­gerty, head of school at the New Beginnings Fam­ily Acad­emy, a Bridge­port char­ter school that of­fers chess classes to sev­enth- and eighth­grade stu­dents.

David Lu said he’s not sure Max is look­ing to make a ca­reer in chess. “As long as it’s fun, we’ll en­cour­age it,” he said. “The higher and higher you go it’s very dif­fi­cult and if you don’t enjoy it, it’s not really worth it, I think.” For Max, the at­trac­tion to chess is sim­ple: “I just want to do it for fun, as a hobby.” —AP

AR­MONK: Max­imil­lian Lu ad­justs his cap as he toys with a chess set dur­ing an in­ter­view, Mon­day, in Ar­monk, NY. The 10-year-old re­cently be­came the youngest chess mas­ter ever in the United States. — AP

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