This Dublin Teen Is a Ranked Chess Champ
Do you remember what you were doing when you were 8 years old? That's the age when Dublin resident Maggie Feng decided to start playing chess.
It wasn't long before her dedication to her newfound hobby paid dividends, earning her spots in invitation-only competitions. By seventh grade, she was visiting Dubai for an international tournament. In 2016, Feng became the first girl to win the U.S. Junior High School Championship. The next year, she placed second in the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship.
The past year brought additional accolades. In April, she took eighth place at the U.S. Women's Chess Championship (her second appearance in that tournament), followed in July by a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship at the Saint Louis Chess Club. She also earned the rank of women's international master.
Feng, a senior at Dublin Jerome High School, doesn't have as much time for the game as she used to, but still manages to practice five to six days a week. The 18-year-old enjoys the fact that chess has no single solution and so many possibilities. “I just still like playing the game,” she said. “It's like an endless puzzle.”
Her love for chess began when she attended two beginner camps. She liked the experience so much that she got a CD so she could play on the computer.
Alan Casden, who runs the CCL chess training program, coached Feng when she was in elementary school. “She's actually better than me now,” he said. Casden describes Feng as extremely focused, and relentless in her approach to the game—constantly calculating, yet remaining calm under pressure.
Feng said chess has helped improve her logical thinking, enabling her to look two or three steps ahead. Her memory also has gotten better, she said, which has benefited her at school.
She continues to compete in numerous tournaments, including more than 30 across Ohio in the last year. In the past, she has traveled internationally to Brazil, Dubai and Greece. Tournaments are typically held on weekends, said Feng, who plays five games, each generally lasting two to six hours, over three days. The longest, she said, was a six-hour match that lasted until 1 a.m.
Though Feng's love for chess remains strong, she also has picked up other hobbies. She began studying martial arts at age 12 and now is a first-degree black belt. After graduation, she plans to study engineering—and wants to keep playing chess.
Emily Habak, who taught Feng in AP biology last year, said she enjoyed watching Feng grow. At the beginning of class, Feng was quiet but always smiling, and Habak soon caught on to Feng's quirky sense of humor. Habak said Feng never talked about her chess accomplishments; she found out only when her student offhandedly mentioned going out of town. “She surprises you,” Habak said.
Lei Feng said his daughter has gained a variety of benefits from chess, meeting many friends and becoming well-known in her community. “Chess opened the door for her,” he said.
Think your child is too young for chess lessons? Maybe not.
Alan Casden, who runs chess training program CCL, said he has coached kids as young as 4, although he typically waits until age 5.
Casden, 67, learned to play at age 16, which was typical in the late 1960s. Now, children are starting much younger, to the point where students who pick up the game as fifth-graders are considered a bit behind, he said. Still, that shouldn't dissuade anyone from learning the game at any age. Starting chess in high school is “probably a mild handicap,” Casden said.
The rules of chess are fairly simple, but learning the game brings a plethora of benefits, including critical thinking skills, since players need to examine the consequences of their actions and use strategy to determine which moves are most promising. “You can extrapolate that to almost all life situations,” Casden said.
Studies have shown that people who play chess do better in school, he said, because of the self-discipline fostered from the game, as well as an appreciation for hard work and results.
The Ohio Chess Association website, ohchess.org, is a good place to start to find a list of clubs in the Central Ohio area.