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February 12, 2011

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Checking out Chess Club

A 16-year-old Chinese girl has become the world's youngest woman chess champion and inspired many fans. The Shanghai Chess Club nurtures young players. Nie Xin opens.

Thirteen-year-old Yuan Zongyuan, just back from Boston, was keenly disappointed when he didn't make the finals of the recent Shanghai Chess Club Trophy competition.

He lost qualifying round in which Danish international chess master Torben N. Sorensen played a simultaneous blind match with 20 players; two went on the finals on January 30.

"Although I lost, I appreciate the valuable opportunity to learn from experienced professionals," Yuan says. "It's thanks to the Shanghai Chess Club."

The championship finally went to 25-year-old Olexiy Zaika from Germany, who is now studying at Shanghai Tongji University.

At the club everyone was inspired by the performance on December 24 of 16-year-old Hou Yifan from Beijing who defeated another Chinese woman to become the world's youngest woman chess champion at a match in Turkey. She topped the age record set in 1978 by a Georgian player who was 17.

The Shanghai club, established in 2007 by Briton James Waldron, has around 50 regular members, Chinese and expats. Some also teach chess. Sorensen, the Danish master, is one of the regulars.

It's believed to be the city's first chess club for international players.

Yuan started playing chess when he was 6 years old and continued playing at clubs in Boston where he lived for six years. He moved back to Shanghai last September.

"When we returned to Shanghai, I couldn't find many choices for chess players," says Yuan's father Ben.

"One day by accident I found the Shanghai Chess Club through the Internet. It's quite unique since it's very international," says the elder Yuan who declines to identify his profession but says he doesn't play chess himself.

He doesn't know whether his son will pursue chess but says the boy "cherishes the weekly events when he can practice."

"The chess club, the first international one in Shanghai, is a platform for well-known and amateur international players to learn, make friends and communicate," says Waldron, the British founder.

Waldron has been living in Shanghai for more than eight years. He launched the club in 2007 with his friends. Every Sunday at 4pm, around 15 chess players gather to play at the Oscar's Pub on Fuxing Road M.

"The level and standard are generally pretty good," says Sorensen, who has been living in China for almost four years and takes part in the regular events.

Club member, Canadian Sandor Mathe, teaches children the basics of chess - the moves and rules, basic tactics and strategies.

"We are chess lovers from all over the world and the club is like a big family for us to meet and to play," Mathe says.

"The key is to keep the game fun and entertaining while maintaining its educational value and mental benefits," he adds.

Most of the 50 regular members are foreigners. Only five are Chinese. English is the dominant language.

"Language is one problem, and the venue, the pub, sometimes is not that trustful to Chinese locals who assume the cost there will be very high," says the elder Yuan.

But Yuan is very positive about the club and always encourages friends to have a try. It's free to join the club and members are entitled to discount drinks at the pub, he says.

"We hope our club can attract more Chinese chess players," says Waldron.

He says the second branch of the club will open on February 24 in Lujiazui area of the Pudong New Area. Members will meet every Thursday at 6pm at O'Yamee Cafe on Century Avenue.

At the opening, Sorensen will hold a simultaneous match again with as many as 20 players.

For more information, visit the club website at, or e-mail James Waldron at james@shchess.


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