15 May 2016

Nearly Two Decades Later

After posting about Chess Kids (2011), I took the time to watch the video and take notes. The 80 minute film is in fact two movies. The first 50 minutes show the original 'Chess Kids' (1996), a documentary built around interviews with young chess stars, their parents, and coaches. The last 30 minutes show more interviews with the former youngsters, recorded nearly two decades later.

The original interviews were made during the 1990 World Youth Chess 'Festival for Peace', a FIDE event better known as the World Youth Chess Championship (wikipedia.org). The Wikipedia page includes details on the 1990 event which took place at Marian College, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (USA). The film mentions '170 chess geniuses' who gathered from all corners of the globe. A news story from that time, Youngsters Face Off In World Competition (sun-sentinel.com; July 1990), described the tournament for its Florida readers.

Eighteen young American players will begin competing today for six world championships. [...] Championships will be contested by boys and girls born on or after Jan. 1, 1976 (called the under 14 section); on or after Jan. 1, 1978 (under 12); and on or after Jan. 1, 1980 (under 10).

The event coincided with a period that I call The Start of the Scholastic Boom (July 2014). The following screen capture from the video shows eight players who were featured in the before and after segments of the 2011 documentary.

Photo pairs: In 1990, in 2007

The eight individuals are: (left to right, top to bottom) 1st row: Joseph Conlon, Judit Polgar; 2nd row: Morgan Pehme, Josh Waitzkin; 3rd row: Victoria Fossum, Nawrose Nur; 4th row: David Newman, Gabriel Schwartzman Other chess luminaries appearing in the film: (in order of first appearance) Fred Waitzkin, Bruce Pandolfini, IM Nikolay Minev, GM Pal Benko, Svetozar Jovanovic (Dalton school), and GM Arnold Denker.

Another name I recognized was Richard Peterson, the father of 'two children playing' -- David, 10, & Andrea, 7 -- both in their respective U-10 sections. Peterson made a name for himself in the 1990s with his chess activities in Arizona and California. A recent article also mentions those two children from a previous marriage: Petersons raise family of chess achievers (November 2012).

My 2014 post on the 'Scholastic Boom' ended with the challenge of scholastic retention. Of the eight players in the photo and the two Petersons, only Judit Polgar was still playing chess at the time of the second interview. Is there anything to be learned here?


Chris said...

Yes, there is something to be learned.

The first thing is that the biggest obstacle to the growth of chess popularity is that so many kids drift away from the game after they're done with school, if not slightly before. I honestly don't know if this is a uniquely American problem or if this is common around the world. I assume the latter.

The second is that until recently - meaning the "Sinquefield Era" - there were not too many opportunities for players to stay in the game. This is why we lost the Stuart Rachels and Patrick Wolff's of the world. Now we get Awonder Liang's and Jeffrey Xiong's and Sam Sevian's and they're far more likely to stay in the game.

Mark Weeks said...

It's been a few years since I watched the video, but I remember two aspects that impressed me: first, how bright the players seemed as children; second, how interesting and diverse their adult careers were. Would the world be better off if they had become professional chess players? Would they be happier in their adult lives? Isn't it enough that they were keen on chess as youngsters and can fully appreciate the game as adults?