One Woodland 16-year-old will compete in a high-level tournament of kings, queens, nights and pawns at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Chess Championship.
Rochelle Wu is one of only 10 players that qualified for the championship. She traveled to the Saint Louis Chess Club to take part in the competition, which started Wednesday and continues through July 17.
“I’m hoping that I just play some good games, and hopefully they’re pretty high quality compared to some other games I’ve played recently,” Wu said. “I’m just hoping to do my best.”
Wu has been prepping by playing in tournaments, solving puzzles, and studying opponents’ openings to stay on top of her game.
Because of Wu’s prowess, she was invited to participate in the Young Stars program — a chess training program coached by Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and former world champion who is generally considered one of the best in the world. Wu described the experience of meeting him as “obviously pretty amazing.”
Wu started playing in tournaments when she was only 6 years old, having learned the pieces’ moves by watching her dad and brother play.
Since then, she has earned the titles of International Chess Federation Master — the third-highest title a chess player can achieve — along with Woman International Master. And in 2019, she broke the record for the youngest ever player to represent the U.S. in an Olympiad or World Team. And she said she is still seeing improvement in her play.
Most of the tournaments Wu plays in are co-ed, but she said she is glad that women-only tournaments exist. Wu said she recognizes less women play chess at the tournament level than men, and she sees women-only tournaments as a way to encourage girls to play more chess.
In 2017, Wu got first place in the National Girls Tournament of Champions. One year prior, she won gold in the 2016 World Cadet Chess Championship U10 Girls section.
“That was actually one of my most memorable chess achievements,” Wu said. “It was really amazing to be able to play well in that tournament and to stand on the podium. It encouraged me to continue to play the game and try to keep getting better at it.”
Yet, in her quest for chess improvement, Wu said she tries to maintain a balance between competition and other aspects of life. During the school year, she said she spends more time on homework than chess, using the weekends to catch up on practice. Wu said that she looks up to her friends who maintain that balance effectively.
Wu said she also tries to avoid the toxicity of extremely competitive attitudes.
“I think it’s all about just not giving yourself too much pressure,” Wu said. “And taking it one game at a time and enjoying actually playing the game instead of just results because everyone has good and bad tournaments. It’s better to just learn from your mistakes than beat yourself up over it.”
Wu said she hopes that she continues playing chess throughout high school and beyond. She said she always wants chess to be a hobby of hers, saying that some day it might even be more than a hobby.