World champion chess player and Bellevue resident Naomi Bashkansky (left) shakes hands with an opponent at a chess tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, last weekend. She will be coming to the island Saturday to speak to Chautauqua Elementary School’s chess club and play against willing opponents. (Ludmila Bashkansky Photo)

Young world chess champion will speak, play at island event

Islander and chess expert Philip McCready has had his work cut out for him trying to establish a regular chess club on Vashon. Despite being a popular pastime throughout most of the world, with roughly 605 million adults regularly playing the game of wits and strategy that dates back nearly 1,500 years, interest here has been hit-or-miss as far as group meetings and head-to-head play goes. It was with this in mind that McCready planned an event for Saturday that will bring the world under-13 scholastic girls’ chess champion to the island.

Naomi Bashkansky, 13, of Bellevue, won the 2016 World School Chess Championship in the girls under-13 category in Sochi, Russia, in December. She is coming to the island at McCready’s invitation fresh off of a strong showing at the U.S. Chess Federation’s Supernationals in Nashville, Tennessee. At that competition this past weekend, she placed 24th out of 244 competitors in her age category. Her school team, of which she is also a member, shared second-third place in the overall team standings.

“That’s a remarkable result,” said Guy Bashkansky, Naomi’s father.

McCready, with the help of the Vashon PTSA and Chautauqua parent Joe Schonbok, has been working with Chautauqua Elementary School students interested in chess — though the group is open to any students in kindergarten through high school. The chess group meets about once a month and McCready thought that Naomi would be a great role model for the kids.

“At such a young age, she is in the top 98 percentile of players in the country,” he said. “She is nationally ranked, and with the win in Sochi is now a Woman FIDE (World Chess Federation) Master.”

At Saturday’s event, Naomi will talk about a few of her favorite or most memorable matches, and then play a “simul,” which means that multiple chess games will be set up, and she alone will play against local challengers. McCready noted that there will be room for 20 to 25 boards to be going at once, which means Naomi will play 20 to 25 different opponents simultaneously. Priority will be given to the Chautauqua Chess Group’s members, but available boards will be open to the public.

Guy Bashkansky said that while his daughter, who started playing at the age of 5 — and was unavailable for an interview due to her participation in the Supernationals competition in Nashville — has never participated in this kind of an event before as the expert, she has been on the challenger side of the board before.

“Both of my kids have either drawn (tied) or beaten grand masters in the past,” he explained. It should be noted that Naomi’s older brother Ethan is also a nationally ranked chess player.

Guy Bashkansky and his wife, Ludmila, are both from Russia originally, but moved from Israel to the U.S. in 2007 with Ethan and Naomi. Guy noted while he and his wife only play chess at a recreational level, they taught the kids at a young age. Both showed a great affinity for the game.

“There was a point at which Naomi became a strong enough player, she clearly needed a coach,” he said, crediting Grand Master Greg Serper with helping to sharpen his daughter’s aggressive “chess mind.”

“She doesn’t like draws, and she doesn’t like to play it safe,” he noted. Fair warning to any readers considering challenging the young champion.

Being competitive in the world of chess requires a great deal of travel, and with two nationally ranked players in the family, the Bashkanskys decided to make family vacations out of tournaments. Guy, who describes himself as the kids’ driver, travel agent and sponsor, even maintains a blog that is a combination chess tournament report and family travelogue, to document their extensive adventures.

“We’re really looking forward to coming to Vashon,” he said, of the relatively short trip for this event. “It’s not often we get to go somewhere so close to home, but have never been before.”

McCready hopes the event will pique enough interest in the game to keep the kids’ club going.

“Chess is a bit like a martial art, there is a lot of practice and discipline involved,” he said. “You see where you need to improve, and you work on it.”

Play chess with Naomi

The Vashon PTSA and Chautauqua Chess Club will welcome World Champion Naomi Bashkansky on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Vashon Library. All are welcome. Anyone interested in playing a simul game against Naomi should email Philip McCready at pkmccready@yahoo.com to sign up.

To follow Naomi’s chess progress and read about the family’s travel experiences, see chesstravel.blogspot.com.