It’s a little after 7 pm on January 2nd, and the San Diego Chess Club is holding the club champtionship qualifying round in its mid-century Balboa Park digs along Sixth Avenue just north of Ivy. “May the force be with you and guide you in your game,” says a dreadlocked middle-aged man to his younger opponent. Both began playing chess in the Navy. Besides them, there are three other blacks here, and three Asians, and two women. Twenty of the nearly 60 heads are gray or bald.
Thirty minutes pass in huge silence. Several players stand between moves, regarding the board from a greater distance and a loftier perspective. Everybody keeps track of their game, either on apps or in notebooks. The first match to conclude — just a half-hour or so after starting — is between Andrew Wang (1983 rating) and James Harris (1351). “You only get mismatches like that in this tournament,” says Chess Club Vice President Chuck Ensey. “But there’s always an upset somewhere.” Not here. “He blundered early in the opening, and I started attacking,” says Wang. “He pinned his bishop to his F7 pawn; he couldn’t move it or else it would have been checkmate. I just pushed my E pawn and won the piece. After that, he let me attack too violently and had to give up his queen to defend. He was completely losing, so he resigned.” The end was clear to both — Wang says he will think four to five moves ahead in average situations, and “calculate deeper” when he’s figuring out if a particular sacrifice is worth it.
Wang is 10; he started playing chess when he was in first grade. “There was a chess program in my local library in Carmel Mountain Ridge, and when I played my first game, I really liked it. I liked how the pieces moved.”
While Andrew talks, fellow player Ming Lu enters the room. Ming Lu is listed at a 2184 rating on the tournament sheet, but online he’s at 2217; he recently gained the title of National Master. He is 13, and currently rated #32 in the country in the under-14 bracket. He’s bored, wants to go home, asks Andrew what he’s going to do while they wait.
Lu and Wang share a pair of coaches. “My favorite coach is a Chinese International Master (2400 rating),” says Wang. “He’s like me; we both really like attacking. Our games are really fun for tactics. My other coach plays solid and waits for the opponent to blunder. I meet with each of them once a week, and probably spend two hours a day on chess.” The solid coach, the one Wang says Lu plays like, “lets me choose some games to review. My Chinese coach gives me puzzles, tactical exercises where you try to find if there’s a combination of moves you can use. You try to solve them, and also to find out how you can use them in your own games.”
Ming Lu asks, “Andrew, you do puzzles for him?”
“Yeah, don’t you get them too?”
“I don’t get them any more; I stopped like a month ago. He says I’m too good for them now. Now he just makes me practice, and he’s like, ‘You have no homework,’ and I’m like, ‘Yay.’”
“Oh,” says Wang.