NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. - It’s going to be checkmate for some of the nation’s top chess players, when New Rochelle prodigy Michael Bodek takes his talents to St. Louis next week to participate in the National Junior Closed Chess Championship.
Bodek, 18, was one of 10 players from around the country to be chosen to compete at the Closed Championship, the nation’s premiere tournament for American chess players under the age of 21, which will be held beginning on Friday, July 7 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.
The 10 players will compete in a nine-round, round-robin tournament with more than $20,000 in prizes up for grabs. Additionally, the victor earns an automatic invitation to next year’s United States Championship, the nation’s top invitational chess tournament.
After playing chess for more than half his life, Bodek said he was ecstatic and excited when he learned he was invited to the Junior Closed Championship for the second straight year.
“I’m not sure I did anything specific to (earn) an invitation, just knew I wanted to work hard and pursue it,” he said. “I Knew I was near the top, so I’m happy to get in. That tournament is a lot of fun and we’re all pretty familiar with each other.”
In preparation of the Big Games next month, Bodek said that he’s been evaluating both his own and the tendencies of his nine opponents, studying and playing as much as he can online.
“It’s all about playing a lot and getting your mind in shape so you don’t go into a tournament like this cold. You can look at your opponents and see what they’re known for and tailor strategy accordingly,” he said. “People say (the benchmark) is 10,000 hours. I don’t know if I’ve done that, but I have lots of experience.”
Bodek wasn’t always a chess master. He got his start in the game a decade ago when he broke his arm during the first week of summer vacation and was sidelined for several weeks. He mused that he used to train for tournaments by playing against family members, until things got “a little lopsided.”
Although he is one of the country’s elite talents, Bodek said he has no intention of pursuing a pro career, though he will never step away from the chess board.
“When I broke my arm that summer, I really couldn’t do much else, so I played a lot of chess, realized I liked it a lot and just ran with it. I’m just trying to do my best and have fun,” he added. “Chess has been a big part of me and it’s something I’ve been playing most of my life.
“It’s a really fun activity that I’ve taken so far and I’m still with it. I think I’ll always really enjoy playing the game and I think it will always be a part of me.”