Young local chess players take part in the Philadelphia World Open | New
PHILADELPHIA — Two young chess players from Allegany traveled to Philadelphia to compete in the World Open for the second time in as many years.
After the World Open, because their first major chess tournament was such a great experience, 8-year-old twins Juliana and Sylvia Bysiek knew it was something they wanted to prepare for and play again.
The girls, accompanied by their parents, grandparents and brother Eddy, arrived in Philadelphia on June 28 and checked into the Sheraton Hotel where the tournament was taking place.
In a crowded ballroom, more than 1,500 people participate in the World Open. Some were on the mezzanine level and the top players were in the ballroom upstairs. Grandmasters and international masters were present, Sylvia and Juliana wrote in a journal of their experience.
“It’s fun to walk up and down the escalator and watch the matches of some of the best chess players in the world,” the girls wrote. “One time we were running around and almost knocked over a famous grandmaster who was going up the escalator.”
The Bysieks wrote that chess is an interesting sport because age and gender matter less. On one set, a woman who was Bobby Fischer’s best friend played against the twins’ friend Melissa, who is their age.
Chess has a reputation as a sport where boys are better, but there are plenty of excellent girls too, they wrote. Bysieks like to stick together and are happy for each other when they beat up boys, especially older boys who think girls are easy to beat.
Megan Paragua, the highest ranked girl under 10, who the girls once played online, also competed in Philadelphia where the girls met her in person after she came and challenged Sylvia and Juliana at a bughouse game, a two-versus-two chess type.
“At first we were nervous to meet Megan because she is famous and has been on the cover of many chess magazines,” they wrote. “She’s actually really nice, though, and just a normal girl.”
Sylvia was thrilled to meet Tanitoluwa Adewumi, a Nigerian refugee who immigrated to the United States after his family was nearly killed by Boko Haram. He learned to play chess a few years ago and is already a master. The Bysieks’ mother read them a book about her life when they started playing chess.
“One of the most important lessons I learned from his book is that you never lose, you learn,” Sylvia said. “And that’s a lesson I really had to remember.”
Sylvia played against a chess coach from California and the match lasted over two hours. The trainer moved so slowly – she was only eight minutes out of 90 on her clock when she made checkmate.
“After we shook hands, she complimented me on how well I played. It made me feel a little better about losing, but not much,” Sylvia said. “She told me she had made a big mistake and was very scared that I would see her, but I moved too fast and missed her. If I had taken my time and thought more a long time, I would have been in a winning position.
Tournament players are given a grade to show how strong they are, the girls said. Juliana learned that a chess rating is one of the most accurate indicators of your chances of winning a match, with one exception. Being young and not having time to raise your grade, her parents said she might actually be much higher than her grade.
“When I won a tough match against a girl who had odds nearly 900 points higher than me, I thought maybe she was right,” she said. “She started crying after the game, which made me feel a little bad for beating her, but only for a minute.”
Going into her next match, Juliana started to think she was really good but made a huge mistake in the opener.
“Chess is more difficult than other sports because sometimes if you make a mistake the game is pretty much over,” Juliana said. “I was now in a losing position and my opponent kept attacking until I couldn’t stop the mate anymore.”
One night the girls played a special blitz chess tournament, a type of fast chess where each opponent has only three minutes to checkmate. It started at 11pm which is well after bedtime but they wanted to play with their friend Riona who they knew they wouldn’t be seeing again for a while.
“The tournament lasted until 2 a.m.,” they said. “We had so much fun we didn’t even realize how tired we were until we got back to our room.”
The Bysieks also went to Rittenhouse Park where lots of people play chess like street basketball – it’s hard, fast and sometimes chess hustlers cheat. The girls imagined older men saying trash and trying to take their money.
“It made us a little nervous but we still wanted to play and see what it was like,” they wrote. “The park players turned out to be really nice guys and even taught us some traps that we could use against future opponents.”
Besides chess, the Bysieks toured Philadelphia, including a wading pool in Love Park, dined at an Italian restaurant and toured the kitchen, rode a double-decker bus, and saw some of the major historical sites they heard about. They even channeled their inner Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“It was over 90 degrees outside and it was too hot. So, we just walked up the steps,” the girls said. “We didn’t see what the problem was.”
The World Open was an amazing experience, wrote Sylvia and Juliana. They made many new friends from across the country and around the world. We have learned that although we come from different places and cultures, we have a lot in common.
“Chess is a great game that has taught us how to focus better, solve problems, and understand that actions have consequences,” they wrote. “Most importantly, we have wonderful new people in our lives that we never would have had the chance to meet, if not for chess.”