Playing Chess Opens Door to College Scholarships

CHICAGO — When Kimberly Anderson brought her three daughters, Kayla, 13, KaLaya, 9, and Kyra, 7, here to the Kasparov Chess Foundation’s 8th annual All Girls Championships, her reason went beyond whatever trophies the girls might bring home.

She was actually thinking several years ahead — or, as chess enthusiasts might say, several moves ahead — to when the girls will be old enough to go to college.

And with good reason.

By winning the tournament, 15-year-old Alexandra Botez, a sophomore at Clackamas High School in Clackmas, Ore., took home a scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas that is valued at $105,000.

This is the fourth year that UTD has offered the scholarship to the winner of the Under 18 section of the All Girls Championships and represents what tournament organizers say is a growing trend.

“It wasn’t so long ago that there weren’t chess scholarships,” says Glenn Panner, a national tournament director who served as chief tournament director for the event.

“Now, we have amazing schools like UTD that are so generous with giving these opportunities.”

Another such school is the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which offers a series of scholarships for highly rated players. One of the scholarships covers tuition and fees. Another covers tuition, fees, room and board. They are valued at $66,000 and $98,000 for non-Maryland residents, respectively.

UMBC officials say offering scholarships to top young chess players is just one way to attract the best and brightest students to their institution.

“The rarest commodity in the world is human intelligence, which is abundantly present in this room,” Dr. Tim Redman, founder and director of UTD’s chess program, told the 236 girls who played in the tournament in Chicago over the weekend.

He reminded the girls that there are easier ways to get a scholarship than winning a chess tournament: getting good grades, scoring well on the SAT and becoming a National Merit Scholar. But he said if the girls do win the UTD chess scholarship, instantly they will have 35 friends — members of the UTD chess team.

For parents like Anderson, an electrical engineer with the U.S. Navy, potential scholarships represent yet another benefit of playing chess.

“As much as I like sports, I think our children need to obtain academic scholarships or scholarships that really try to make them use their brain,” Anderson says.

Plus, there’s the practical matter of the growing cost of college.

“It’s essential for my children to get some type of scholarships to college,” she says. “I want them to work toward winning a scholarship because it’s very costly.”

Based on the girls’ affiliation with the chess team at their school, the Washington-Parks Academy in Redford, Mich., just outside of Detroit, the girls are on the right track.

The team came in second and fourth place in the Under 8 and Under 10 sections of the tournament, respectively. Kyra contributed three wins to her team’s score and Kayla contributed two.

The Washington-Parks team, which brought more than a dozen players to the tournament, represented perhaps the largest contingent from an urban school district at the tournament. The tournament attracted girls of all nationalities from 30 states and Canada.

Among the older girls with the Washington-Parks Academy team was Braya Hicks, 13.   Scoring 3.5 out of a possible 6 points during the six-round match, Hicks came in 13th out of 36 in the Under 14 section, high enough to win one of the 15 trophies reserved for the top players. Hicks says playing chess has helped her academically.

“I’ve noticed that it really helps me in school, math-wise, analytical and critical thinking,” she says. Hicks plans to study sports medicine and physical therapy. She already has her sights set on Howard University because she would like to attend an HBCU.

HBCUs represent fertile ground for chess. A check of articles on The Chess Drum — a Web site devoted to highlighting chess activities within the African Diaspora — turned up only one 2006 article that mentioned HBCU.

“There are many activities popular at HBCUs, but chess has not traditionally been one of them,” the article lamented. “Chess still suffers from being perceived as an activity for high-class, brainy, White males.”