Chess Team Women Enjoyed Success at Istanbul Chess Olympiad
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – OCTOBER 25, 2012 – Three international students, members of The University of Texas at Brownville and Texas Southmost College Chess Team, had a good reason for starting the fall semester a couple weeks late this year – they were representing their countries at the biannual World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey.
Luciana Morales taks with Garry Kasparov.
Katerina Nemcova, a Woman Grandmaster sophomore communication major from Czech Republic, was very pleased with her team’s performance.
“The Czech team displayed a strong, competitive attitude at the Olympiad, resulting in the 34th final standing position, leaving 116 countries behind us,” Nemcova said. “We did well against Russia, and we were really happy about that.”
Freshman Aura Salazar, Woman International Master from Colombia, was equally pleased with her team’s showing at the Olympiad, leaving the tournament in 31st place out of 127.
Luciana Morales, who received her Bachelor of Arts in government and communication from UTB in 2011 and is currently working on her Master’s in Public Policy Management, also attended the Olympiad. Morales, a Woman International Master from Peru, went as the captain for the Peruvian women’s team.
“We placed 23 out of 120, and that is good for the Peruvian team, so I was happy,” Morales said.
Although this was Morales’ first visit to Istanbul, and she said she felt it to be a culturally fascinating city, the sparkle of the Topkapi Palace jewels held no comparison to her most memorable Olympiad experience: personally meeting and having a conversation with Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov.
“I saw him about 10 years ago at the Olympiad in Bled, Slovenia, but we didn’t meet,” Morales said. “This time, he was walking through the playing hall, and after much deliberation on my part, I approached him to say hello. We talked about his political involvement, particularly his recent defense of the incarcerated Russian all-girls band ‘Pussy Riot’ that eventually led to his own imprisonment. I was beyond thrilled to hear this larger-than-life person speaking so eloquently about freedom of speech and human rights.”
Left to right: Luciana Morales, Aura Salazar and Katerina Nemcova.
In 2007, Morales was recruited by Russell “Rusty” Harwood, Chess Program Director at UTB and TSC for the past six years who was recently elected a member of the United States Chess Federation Scholastic Council.
Morales was among the UTB and TSC team that qualified to the Final Four of Chess for the first time in 2008. She continues to play for the university team as a graduate student.
Nemcova grew up in a six-girl, one-boy, chess-playing family in Prague.
“My father comes from a chess family,” she said. “He used to compete in chess and later he traveled as a coach to chess tournaments. He believes that chess is a great tool that helps children to prepare for their future careers, and that is why he decided to bring this royal game also to his own family. I cannot agree more and I am very happy for his decision and efforts.”
“Katerina had one of the best performances by any woman at the recent Olympiad,” Harwood said. “As a freshman she has contributed to UTB and TSC team by being on our B Team at the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship in Fort Worth in Dec 2011, where we succeeded at reaching seventh place.”
Harwood recruited Salazar at the recommendation of Nadya Ortiz, also from Colombia, who graduated from UTB and TSC in December 2011 with a degree in computer science. Ortiz is currently working on her master’s degree in information security at Perdue University.
“In the word of chess, you get to know other players,” Salazar said. “I had met Nadya at tournaments in Colombia, and we knew a lot of the same people. I am pleased that Nayda recommended me to Rusty for consideration to join the university chess team.”
Salazar’s family story is similar to that of Nemcova’s. Growing up in Itagüe, Colombia, she and her sister learned chess from their father. Salazar remembers watching her dad and sister playing at home when she was about six.
“At school they asked who knew how to play chess, and I said yes – well, of course, I didn’t, but I pretended,” Salazar said. “The only thing I knew from observation at home was a knight moves in an ‘L’ shape, so that’s how I started.”
Salazar practiced with her older sister and their father, and she quickly overtook their father.
“I give him chess advice now,” she said. “My sister studies math and physics in Colombia, she but does not play chess competitively. There, you have to choose between chess and school; you can’t do both like here.”
Nemcova said the situation is the same in Czech Republic.
“We are both so pleased to continue with competitive chess for UTB and TSC while being able to attend school at the same time,” Salazar said.
Salazar arrived in Brownsville from Itagüe in June to attend classes at the Language Institute. She felt she needed to bolster the English she had learned in school in Colombia.
“The campus is so big, and it is beautiful,” Salazar said. “And the student housing is really nice. So far, I am really happy here.”
Harwood said Salazar jumped in with both feet during the summer session, going to classes during the day and studying in the evenings.
“She is going to follow in her countrywoman’s footsteps and be a great addition to our team,” Harwood said.
The Chess Team will hold the second of three Chess Academy group classes for K-12 students to learn and perfect their skills from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26. The event will take place in the Life and Health Sciences Building. For more information, call Russell Harwood at 956-882-5761 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The third and final Chess Academy class for the fall season will be held on Friday, Nov. 16.