For fun, sometimes, Nastassja Matus of Plymouth plays chess against a computer.
“Helps me play from certain positions,” she said.
Two weeks ago, Matus, 12, won the 14th annual Susan Polgar Foundation Global Invitational, arguably the world’s most prestigious all-girls chess tournament.
First-place winnings included $110,000 in scholarships and cash prizes.
Matus, the youngest player to ever win the tournament, will be a Wayzata Middle School seventh-grader this fall.
The Susan Polgar tournament is an invitational, meaning you have to be invited to attend. The tournament is held on the campus of Webster University in Webster Groves, Missouri.
Note: Webster University has had the country’s best chess program five years running. Polgar, the current No. 1-ranked female chess player in the United States, is Webster’s head coach.
Former players are also allowed to play. Nineteen is the upper age limit.
Matus played in the tournament in 2015. Eden Prairie’s Gloria Friedman was also in the field, having earned her way into the tournament last year after winning a women’s regional tournament.
Friedman, 15, is a soon-to- be Eden Prairie High School sophomore.
Players come from around the world.
“I could count flags,” said Friedman, “but I’m going to guess there were players from a dozen countries.”
Differing levels of abilities were also represented.
“It was a wide spectrum,” said Friedman. “Some players were new to the rules, some have been playing for a couple years, and some are ranked. I was somewhere in the middle.”
While the winner of a chess game is usually the player that makes the fewest mistakes, chess can be a game of breaks.
“It depends,” said Matus, “depends on your opponent and depends on your position.”
It can also depend on when you played, or the difficulty of your last match
Games can be as short as a few moves or as long as six to seven hours.
“Winning a long match is energizing,” said Matus. “If you lose, you’re not happy and you’re mentally drained.”
Matus won the tournament by securing a draw in the championship match.
Matus entered the final match with 4.5 points. Two other players had 4.0 points. Matus was facing one of these players in the title match. The other player had lost her final match before Matus’ match had ended, meaning Matus needed a draw to win the tournament.
Bobby Fischer once said, “Chess is life.”
He wasn’t lying.
“Chess helps with a lot of stuff,” said Matus, “math and science, for sure.”
Friedman said playing chess has given her more confidence. She also values the game’s connections. “You meet a lot of brilliant people,” she said.
Lastly, Friedman said she was told to treat each move as if it were a piece of gold.
“Make your best move in the shortest time,” she said. “There’s no undo button.”
In life, you make decisions based on the information you have. Chess is no different.
Felix Friedman, Gloria’s father, considers chess the ultimate game of life.
“Once you make your move,” he said, “you can not take it back. You are responsible, and you live with the consequences.”
Yes, chess is life.