Sunday, October 31, 2010

Toronto Star Features an Article on Chess in the Library!

Two Saturdays ago, the a Toronto Star photographer Rene J. came to the Brookbanks Library to take some pictures of the Chess in the Library program and the newly elected executive members - me (President), Michael Kleinman (Vice-President) and Kevin Wu (Executive Director). It was a completely democratic election as we have 20 of our active volunteers vote for who they believe is the best candidate for each position. About 8 people in total were running for the 3 positions and it came down to the 3 of us.

When the Toronto Star journalist Dan R. called me one day about the article, I was extremely excited! Not only because it's Chess in the Library's first major publicity, but also because the media is finally talking about chess! He asked me which library the photographer should go to for the pictures and without even thinking, I said: "Brookbanks." The Brookbanks branch was our very first location and it had always been our headquarters. When I go to that library now, it doesn't feel much different from home. The branch head Denise had been extremely supportive of us so both her and the Brookbanks location are major components of the CITL program.

Before we take a look at the article, I just want to thank ALL of our past and present volunteers, ALL of our library liaisons as well as ALL of our donors and sponsors for making CITL possible. A special shout out goes to Yutong Luo, our hardworking Webmaster, Mr.Usprech, my IB guidance counsellor and finally my fellow executives Michael and Kevin. Without each and every one of your support, we couldn't have done it. The article is dedicated to you all and I strongly believe that you all deserve credit for this article!

I hope that this article will help us with expansion and finding corporate sponsors and other funds. Long live Chess in the Library!

Chess champ spreads her passion for the game

Published On Sun Oct 24 2010
Dan Robson Staff Reporter

Yuanling Yuan, 16, is a world-class chess player who has set up chess clubs in libraries across Toronto.

Yuanling Yuan, 16, centre, with Kevin Wu, 15, left, and Michael Kleinman, 16, at her library chess club.

Yuanling Yuan is a relentless chess champion.

The precocious 16-year-old from Victoria Park Collegiate Institute recently spent a couple weeks in Russia as a member of Canada’s team at the World Chess Olympiad.

She ranked 27th out of 564 female players — the highest a Canadian has ever finished. And when she’s not busy being a remarkable chess whiz on the board, she’s busy championing the game off of it.

In today’s digital world, chess may as well be lawn-bowling to many young people. At least that’s what some people think.

Yuan, however, is set on proving those people wrong.

Two years ago she founded Chess in the Library — a smart-sounding club for smart-sounding people. The kind of people who travel to the library (that ancient bastion of knowledge) to play chess (that game that old, wise people play).

“I just wanted to do something to promote chess in Canada,” she said of the day in spring 2009 when she walked into Brookbank Library and told head librarian Denise Drabkin that she wanted to start a chess club.

“She came in here and she said, ‘Hi! I'm really, really keen on starting a chess in the library program’ and I said ‘Wow, lets talk,’ ” recalls Drabkin, who admits she was skeptical at first. “The rest is history.”

Less than two years in, Yuan’s idea has turned into a weekly ritual for people young and old across Toronto. Chess in the Library now operates in 12 Toronto libraries, and has more than 40 volunteers.

The program also operates in a library in Ottawa, and recently expanded to a library in Victoria B.C.

Each library has between 20 to 30 participants coming to learn and play chess every week — that’s more than 250 people.

Most are teens, but some are as young as 5, while others are senior citizens. Experienced players face off against each other, while beginners can get lessons and tips.

“I think chess is a game for people of all ages,” says Yuan, who started playing with her father when she was 7. “As long as they can sit at the table and move the pieces, they should be allowed to play.”

Chess in the Library is not a pawn of an operation. It has a website, an elected executive, and a budget — which, Yuan notes, can use some donations.

“One person can’t really achieve much,” she says of the volunteers who’ve helped make the program a success. “It takes teamwork.”

Yuan enlisted the help of Sheldon Usprech, a teacher who coordinates the International Baccalaureate program at Victoria Park, to get students at the school involved. They are able to complete their community services requirements for graduation by volunteering with the program.

“For a kid her age, what an astounding accomplishment,” said Usprech. “What an incredible program she's created. It's something that people much older would be very proud to put on their resumé.”

And, no doubt it will be on Yuan’s resumé as she applies for business school in a few years. One day she hopes to master commerce the way she’s mastered chess.

Even then, she’ll continue to champion the game she loves.

That’s because, for Yuan, Chess in the Library is more than just a game on Saturday mornings.

“It’s become a group gathering event. It’s beyond chess,” she says. “They make friends there. They talk about — well — I don’t know what they talk about.

“But it’s more than just chess.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where Have I Been? At 39th World Chess Olympiad!

To all of my blog readers, you must've all realized that I haven't posted anything for almost a month! Well, it's not nothing happened in the past month, but rather TOO MUCH that had happened. To start off, I was away in Russia for 3 weeks to represent Canada at the 39th World Chess Olympiad held in Khanty - Mansiysk, Siberia. This was my second time representing Canada at the Olympiad, the first time being in 2008 when I was 14. However, this year I played on board 1 and took the responsibility of leading the entire women's team.

As for results, our team didn't perform exceptionally well nor exceptionally bad. We started off the tournament well but ended up around at our starting rank, being an average team. I, myself did pretty good and scored 7.5/11, finishing 27th of the 564 best female players in the world according to rating gain. Nevertheless, I was quite proud of my team because after all, we are the youngest Canadian women Olympiad team ever in history! :)

Upon my return a week and a half ago, my desk got piled up with huge stacks of homework to catch up on. Now you know why.

Anyways, something really really REALLY awesome took place yesterday at the Brookbanks branch here in Toronto but I'd like to save that story for later. Feeling the suspense yet? :)

The Olympiad reminds of why Chess in the Library ever existed. After my games, I would walk around and carefully observe all the other 150 countries. Team uniforms alone reflects how that country treats chess. Let's take a look at some pictures:

Team Netherlands

Team Turkey

Team Barbados

Team Malawi

Team Nigeria

Team Denmark

Team Italy

Team Cuba

And there are only a small portion of teams that showed team spirit! If the Canadian Team goes to the Beijing Olympics with EVERYONE where a red and white uniform, then why shouldn't the Canadian Chess Olympiad team members? Both competitions are at the world's highest level so why should there be a difference? Well, it is clear from the pictures above that not all countries differentiate in attitude between the Summer Olympics and the Chess Olympiad. As for Canada, there is sure a big difference!

Team Canada at the 2010 Beijing Olympics. What a team, eh?

Canadian Women Team at the 39th Chess Olympiad in Russia. From left to right: Dalia Kagramanov, Liza Orlova, WIM Dina Kagramanov and WIM Yuanling Yuan (me!).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the lack of uniforms for our chess teams (although having them would be nice), but rather reflecting upon the situation. Let's face it - chess in Canada is a lot less popular than many countries in the world, especially Europe. So why do those countries have uniforms? Because they either they've got a lot of government or corporate support. Now why would they receive such a support? Because chess is a popular game in that country and it is regarded as no different than other Olympic games. It's that simple.

Therefore, in order for Canadian chess to receive the same amount of support, we've got to make chess more and more popular here! That's exactly why I started Chess in the Library last summer - to promote chess and nothing else.