Seeing in black and white
Three blazers have been practicing and improving themselves since childhood. All had coaches and traveled to tournaments amassing trophies and titles as they went. Senior Daniel Aisen, senior Eric Ma and freshman Zhi-ya Hu are all experts in the game of chess.
Aisen entered his first championship at the age of seven and has been competing ever since. The tournaments he enters are run on the "swiss system." Every round, players compete with others with the same score. Nobody is eliminated, and after a set number of rounds, usually four or five, the player with the most points wins. Ties are broken either by the cumulative scores of each players' opponents or by a blitz playoff.
In order to succeed in such rigorous competition, Aisen had a coach from second to eighth grades. He still plays chess competitively without a coach, however. "[Playing] gives you discipline, and since people all over the world play, it's a great way to meet people," he says. What he loves most, however, is the competition. "It's fun and it's challenging," Aisen says.
Aisen plays whenever he can, whether person-to-person, online or by mail. For one tournament, he played via mail. "I started in New York at the beginning of middle school and ended it when I moved [to Maryland]" in 2001, he says.
From competing, whatever the method, Aisen has earned respect from those skilled in chess. Former Maryland Scholastic Chess coordinator Tom McNamara recognizes Aisen's talent. "Daniel is one of the top ten [players] easily. He's good," he says.
Already, Aisen has won plenty of prizes and titles from competing with the best. "I've had a lot of trophies. When I was in fifth grade, I was fifth in the country for fifth graders," he says.
Legends in the making
Ma started playing chess in the first grade. "I picked it up from just playing with friends," he says. He played in his first competition in the fourth grade. "When I first started, I liked solving problems. [Chess] is kind of similar to math and computers, which are what I like," Ma says.
For the past several years, four Blair students went to the state chess tournaments as an unofficial team, and Ma has been one of them. They won first place as a team. Ma believes that "going as a team when friends are there" is most fun. He has also traveled to national tournaments solo and to various competitions in Philadelphia.
Like Aisen, Ma met people who direct or coordinate tournaments, including McNamara. "[Ma] is one of the top three Maryland Scholastic players in the past six or seven years," McNamara says. Proof is in the scholarship Ma received to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus in eighth grade. The scholarship offers full tuition coverage for four years at the university. Ma is also a state champ of three years and in ninth grade he placed sixth on the national level.
McNamara believes both Aisen and Ma have a profound understanding of chess. "I'm glad I never had to play Eric or Daniel because they would whip my butt," he says, laughing. "These guys are good enough to play in public tournaments with adults and beat them regularly."
Keeping it alive
New to Blair is Hu, the one who may be able to carry on Aisen and Ma's legacy.
Hu was introduced to American chess by his father at the age of six in his native country of China. Two years later, he began to play competitively. "It's fun; you have to think a lot. You get to use your brain," Hu explains. That is why, soon after Hu moved to America, he ordered chess magazines, and he competed online when he didn't have someone to play.
Hu continued to play chess competitively in the United States as well, using magazines and the Internet to find local competitions. One competition he entered was the Maryland Junior Championship, where he won for the state of Maryland. Since immigrating, he has earned high ranks, no lower than third in the state, and he plans to play nationally by the end of the year.
Hu plans to keep improving and playing chess for years to come.
Honors and awards garnered by Aisen, Ma and Hu:
-Second place in the Maryland State High School Championship in 2004
-Co-Champion in the Maryland State High School Championship in 2003
-Ranked fifth nationally among fifth graders in 1998
-Champion in the Maryland State High School Championship in 2004
-Co-champion in the Maryland State High School Championship in 2002 and 2003.
-Ranked sixth nationally among middle schoolers in 2002.
-Champion in the Maryland Junior Championship in 2004.
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