Chess students learn from the (grand)master at Clutch City Checkmate Challenge

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More than two dozen chess club members at the Baylor College of Medicine Academy at Ryan (BCOMA@R) got an opportunity recently that not many can boast of: the chance to play against a living legend in their game of choice.

Olympic and world chess champion Susan Polgar, who was ranked the top chess player in the world as a teenager and became the first woman to earn the title of grandmaster in 1991, came to the school on Sept. 15 to take part in a “blitz”-style chess tournament as part of the Houston Rockets’ Clutch City Checkmate Challenge.

“Chess can be a real self-confidence booster for girls,” noted Polgar. “Sometimes they can be at a disadvantage when competing against boys, but in chess, all of that disappears, and everyone is on equal footing.”

Sixth-grader Kailee Bradford was one of only about five girls present at the event, but said she was “very excited” to meet such an accomplished chess player. “She’s kind of my idol,” said Kailee, who has been playing chess since the second grade. “I have posters of her on the wall of my room.”

Both Polgar and Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey offered students tips and strategies to help them succeed.

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“A lot of concepts you learn in chess are relevant to both life and work,” explained Morey. “And the strategies we employ in basketball are similar to what chess players do. For instance, we analyze the way Kobe Bryant moves on the court, to look for ways to slow him down and neutralize him.”

“You have to look at the whole picture and not give up too soon,” added Polgar. “I’ve seen it time after time, where someone indulges in a premature celebration, thinking they’ve won, but the game is not over until it’s over.”

The visit from Polgar came as a special treat to the chess team members, who just took first place at a regional chess tournament in the middle school category on Sept. 13.