Phiona Mutesi, the “Queen of Katwe,” Visits Chess4Life Students

On April 24th, Chess4life played host to Phiona Mutesi, a young girl with a powerful story of success and inspiration. While visiting, she spoke to students, told her story, and even took the time to play some games with children while teaching them to think positively and have confidence in their own abilities. Phiona’s youth gave her the ability to relate to students easily, allowing her to connect with them and earn a positive response.

Phiona was born and raised in Katwe, a slum in the city of Kampala, Uganda, where she first learned to play chess in a sports outreach program. Since then, she has grown and risen up to become one of the greatest chess players in Uganda, winning the country’s National Chess Championship in 2010.

Phiona’s first game of chess was played out of desperation. A missionary chess coach named Robert Katende offered a free bowl of porridge to any child that would learn to play from him. Phiona practiced daily with him, and her skills flourished. Katende still works with Phiona today, coaching her and accompanying her on her travels.

In 2010 Tim Crothers, former Sports Illustrated writer, published a book about Phiona’s endeavors called “The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion.” The book proved to be his most popular yet, and is rumored to be getting the Disney treatment in an upcoming movie.

Chess4Life was one of many stops for Phiona, a trip that included meeting with the Gates Foundation as well as the Disney producers among many others. Her tour lasted 33 days starting April 19th, and ending May 20th. Her trip took her all across the country from California to Washington D.C, and each stop gave her an opportunity to share chess with children of all experience levels.

Phiona’s story proves how chess can change lives. It shows us how even a poor, nine year old child from one of the poorest place on Earth can learn to think strategically and plan ahead, giving her the opportunity to flourish into an international icon for the poor and oppressed of the world.

Chess4Life Team Excels at Nationals In Dallas

On May 9th, Chess4Life founder Elliott Neff took a group of Chess4Life students to Dallas, Texas to participate in the K-6 National Championships. The trip was difficult with weather causing transportation problems, but ultimately the team arrived in time to play with impressive results. Ten team members earned trophies in their subdivisions, even though many were faced with overwhelming odds.

Though every Chess4Life player showed great improvement, Vignesh Anand (NWSC rating 1439) and Kevin Nam (NWSC rating 1344) took center stage with their success in the unrated K-6 category. Vignesh tied for 1st place in his division earning 6 ½ points, meaning that he won six games and drew another, while Kevin achieved 3rd place earning 6 points, drawing against none other than Vignesh in the sixth round.

Also worth noting is Odle Middle School’s team, which took 17th place in the K-6 team championship section with only three players, a player down compared to other teams in attendance. On an even more impressive note, Redmond Middle School’s team earned 21st place with only two out of four players!

Each Chess4Life player scored at least three points. “That’s very good for Nationals,” said Elliott Neff. Regardless of wins or losses though, all players showed considerable improvement. “They really learned to take their time and to learn from each game. To do their best, to stay focused, to look for opportunities, and throughout the tournament process I saw tremendous progress in the students. We tracked their usage of time and how many opportunities they had and it worked.”

Congratulations to the success of all our Nationals participants! Your improvements have been noticed, and we’re sure you’ll do even better next year!

Chess4Life Students Represent their State in Annual WA vs. BC Tournament
On May 3, 2014, Chess4Life students headed up to Vancouver B.C. for a chance to defend the state’s honor in a match against students from the BC Scholastic Chess Team and the annual Washington versus British Columbia chess tournament. Though the Washington students were not able to secure victory, the tournament was a great learning experience for all involved!

Team BC certainly deserved the honors – they turned out with nearly all of their top players in all grades (only 2 of their top 26 players required substitutes), while Team Washington struggled with conflicting schedules and a large number of their highest rated players unable to attend.

The first round ended 20 to 6 in BC’s favor, but in the second round Team Washington improved to 16 to 10. The final result was 36-16 in Team BC’s favor.

Due to issues getting many of Chess4Life’s highest rated players to the event, Richard Yang and Sangeeta Dhingra played up into Grade 12 as none of the senior players were present. Yang held his own for one of the longest games in the first round against the #1 BC team player–rated close to 2400–and nearly achieved trapping his opponents’ rook, eventually ‘learning’ in a long, complicated endgame. Perhaps this helped tire his opponent, as Dhingra played white against the same player later and achieved a much better position with a strong knight outpost, better pawn structure, and multiple feasible plans. Dhingra elected to win an exchange (giving up knight to win a rook); however this gave her opponent a strong counterplay option which proved to be too much.

The Washington vs BC International Scholastic Chess Match has been an annual event since 1991, with hosting switching off between teams each year. Chess4Life founder Elliott Neff took over Washington’s part in the event’s organization seven years ago when its prior coordinator stepped down. Since then, Chess4Life has hosted the event every other year in Washington, providing players with a focused, chess-centered location to compete at.

Though Washington lost the trophy this year, the opportunity to expose new, younger players to a higher level of competition was invaluable and sure to impact their growth in skill in anticipation for next year. Hopefully when The BC Scholastic team brings the trophy to us next year, they’ll be leaving it.

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