Considered one of the best scholastic chess players in the country, Magnolia resident Marcell Szabo, 11, will compete against some of the highest-rated chess champions his age in the second-annual Online National Chess Championship, which will take place Friday, June 14, through Sunday, June 17.

“The tournament is really a great opportunity for the entire scholastic chess community,” noted international chess master Danny Rensch, director of chess.com and chesskid.com.
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The invite-only on-line chess tournament, approved by the U.S. Chess Federation, will see the top 32 kids in the nation compete against each other, using chess.com’s Web interface, for a chance to win the national title. Szabo was invited to compete, as he is currently ranked seventh in the under-12 age group.

Scholarships of various amounts will be awarded to each participant, based on how well they do in the tournament, so they can receive training from some of the top chess trainers.

Each player will compete from a public location in his or her hometown. Szabo will play his games at the Seattle Chess Club in North Seattle. All games will be broadcast live at www.chesskid.com/chesskidtv.

“We all try to help him overcome the fact that we don’t have a serious chess player in our family. But I don’t like when anyone calls him a ‘prodigy’ or talks too much about ‘innate talent,’” said Szabo’s mother, Anita Marton. ‘‘It takes an awful lot of time, energy, sacrifice to be good at chess — for him and for his family, as well. Even during summer vacation, winter break, etc., he always plays a lot of chess on the Internet or on various tournaments. This is a way of life, but we believe it is worth it, even if he won’t end up as a professional chess player when he grows up.”

A lot of practice
Szabo gets on-line lessons once every week from chess masters and coaches Dan Heisman and John Watson. He also studies numerous books and chess databases, frequently plays chess on-line and attends adult tournaments almost every weekend at chess clubs in Seattle or Tacoma. Szabo spends at least 20 hours on chess every week, Marton said.

Szabo noted that for many strong players, chess can be a full-time commitment. Some kids, who are home-schooled, spend 10 hours or more on chess every day. His on-line account on the Internet Chess Club recently showed that he had spent a total of 3,000 hours of playing chess on-line, not including practices or tournaments.

“According to a famous book my dad quotes all the time, everyone needs 10,000 hours to get really good at something,” he said.

Last December, Szabo won the National Title in Florida, both in the regular Grade 6 section and in the K-6 blitz (rapid) chess. In addition to his upcoming on-line tournament, Szabo is also preparing for the World Youth Chess Championship, to take place in the United Arab Emirates in December.

“A couple of months ago, I was listed in the top 10 for my age group in the USA,” Szabo said. “In the adult list of Washington state, I am in the top 50; this list, of course, starts with Grandmaster [Yasser] Seirawan and has many international masters and life masters.”

Sabo enjoys competing against adult chess masters, as well as players his own age.

“To play against strong players of any age is fun, but, of course, it can be nerve-wracking, too,” he said. “To play against adults was weird in the beginning, because they really don’t like the idea of losing against a 12-year-old kid. Some of them don’t shake hands and just stand up and leave afterward and don’t want to analyze the game. But most adults are actually really nice to me.”

Szabo said that he often remembers a loss more than a win: “You can learn a lot from a lost game. One of my chess coaches said that he has probably lost more than half a million games over his lifetime — that’s a lot of losses. I don’t think I have lost that many yet.”

Szabo has also noticed that having a good memory and strong math skills is helpful in chess.

“I’ve noticed that when I do a couple of hours of algebra or do some quick, mental math practices, I do pretty well in rapid chess games afterward,” he said.

Friends among competitors
Szabo’s sister initially introduced Szabo to some simple moves and tricks in chess during his winter break from kindergarten.

“Soon after that, I started to play with my father, who also who taught me the basics of the game when he saw that I was interested in playing seriously,” he said.

He then started playing in the school chess club, in first and second grade, a couple hours every week.

“I didn’t know anything about national tournaments, or coaches, or chess books, or on-line chess servers,” Szabo said. “In fourth grade, when I started to put more time and effort into it, my rankings started to go up. But it is not a steady progress. Sometimes, my rating jumps up quickly, and then other times, it just keeps steady for many months.”

Szabo currently has 47 trophies, including two first-place trophies from last December’s National Grade Level Chess Championship. He also won the Washington Junior Open in February and the Expert Section of the Washington Class Championship last November.

Regarding the upcoming on-line championship, “some of the players are my friends; we see each other a lot at tournaments. It will be fun to compete against them, even though we’ll be playing over the Internet…. I hope that I can see them in person sometime soon,” Szabo said. “I know that all these games will be tough because they are really strong. But I will do my best, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.

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