Austin teen competes in U.S. Women’s Chess Championship


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local teenager is hoping to topple a few kings and queens again in the next couple of days.

Austinite Emily Nguyen, 18, leads an army of 16. She has achieved such goals before. However, the past kings and queens she’s conquered are all in chess.

Woman International Master (WIM) Nguyen started playing chess competitively at a very young age and wins came soon after:

  • The 2010 U.S. Junior U8 Championship (open section)
  • The 2012 Pan-American Youth U10 Girls Championship
  • The 2016 North American U20 Girls Championship
  • The 2016 Girls’ Junior Championship

“I honestly love competing more than studying [chess] cause when you’re competing you get to travel to all these cool places. Like when I was in elementary school, I would go to these world youth championships that were in like Slovenia, Greece,” Nguyen said.

This year, she’s after more kings and queens.

WIM Emily Nguyen in 2019 U.S. Championships Round 10 (Courtesy: Crystal Fuller, Saint Louis Chess Club)

Nguyen is competing in Saint Louis Chess Club’s 2020 U.S. Women’s Championship, which runs Oct. 21-24.

She is set for her third day of rounds starting at 1 p.m. Friday, and she’s also set to compete at 2:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. As of Friday morning, she is tied for second place with two other competitors.

Nguyen is one of 12 competing for the title and $100,000 in prize money over the course of 11 rounds. This will be her third appearance at the U.S. Women’s Championship. The last two didn’t go as well as she would have hoped.

“I easily get really nervous and I always feel really pressured so whenever I’m in like a really tough tournament situation, or in one that’s intense or when I’m battling for the championship, I feel like I always screw up or I most often screw up at that point because it’s just like the atmosphere and nerves — they just get to you,” she said.

She got dead lost in both 2017 and 2019. She didn’t win any games. In this current tournament, she finally won a game and broke her 23-game no-win streak. She’s scored more points than the last two combined.

“I’m pretty happy moving forward but there are five games left.”

Something is notably different about the style of play this year, though — the chess pieces and board are virtual.

COVID-19 Chess

COVID-19 put 2020’s chapter of American chess in check, but not quite checkmate.

For the first time in its history, the Saint Louis Chess Club is hosting the 2020 U.S. Chess Championships online.

Emily Nguyen plays against Martha Samadashvili in the 2020 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship (Courtesy: Austin Fuller, Saint Louis Chess Club)

“They’ve done a good job adapting the classical format to online because I feel like with the shorter time control, it actually helps me because I guess I’m rustier than my opponents, so giving less time to think makes the game go either way,” Nguyen said.

She also feels less pressure.

“The atmosphere just isn’t the same. Like you don’t have the cameras, the cold playing hall, the intimidating opponents. Instead, I’m just sitting in my room, in my PJs, I wake up, I go to my computer and it just feels like I’m playing some random person on the internet.”

The 20-day rapid format national tournaments started on Oct. 9.

You can watch daily rounds for free till Oct. 29 on the Saint Louis Chess Club’s website, as well as Saint Louis Chess Club’s YouTube and Twitch channels. Search STLChessClub.

Future moves

What’s next for the national chess competitor?

“I told myself I would stop playing competitive chess once I got to college, and this tournament, I guess, was originally scheduled in April, so I’ll count it as an exception but going forward I don’t think I can take the intense studying and preparation and travels chess brings with it cause I just don’t really have time anymore,” Nguyen said.

WIM Emily Nguyen in 2019 U.S. Championships Round Five (Courtesy: Crystal Fuller, Saint Louis Chess Club)

She currently attends Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, taking classes remotely for the fall semester. She hasn’t decided on a major yet but does have a couple in mind — math and computer science.

For her, this may be her last year competing for a chess championship, but she believes she’ll still play recreationally from time to time as she navigates school and classes.

“I still really enjoy playing the game so I think I’ll play in a few tournaments here and there but it definitely will be more low-key than my high school career,” Nguyen said.

Her advice for those interested in playing:

“Anyone who is remotely interested should just go for it cause chess is a super complex game, like, it’s really hard in the beginning but once you learn it, it keeps on going from there and I guess the beautiful thing about it is the more you learn about it, the more there is to know, which is super cliché but it’s true cause the learning process just never stops so I think it’s a great game.”

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