North Allegheny student, chess prodigy to represent U.S. at international competition
A nine-year-old McCandless boy is taking his chess skills to an international stage.
Evan Park is one of 89 players tabbed to represent the United States in the World Cadets Chess Championship tournament Aug. 21-31 in Pocos de Caldas, Brazil.
A Pennsylvania state champion, Park will compete in the Open Under-10 age group.
“My goal is to get a medal,” he said.
Park, a fourth-grader at Hosack Elementary in the North Allegheny School District, began taking lessons two years ago after taking part in a library tournament. He has proven to be a quick study.
He tied for first place among fourth-graders and was third overall in the K-to-6 Open section of the Pennsylvania State Scholastic Championships in March in Lancaster. He placed first in K-to-3 Open in 2016.
The U.S. Chess Federation ranked him seventh in his age group nationally and he's first among Pennsylvania Regular Rated Top 100 players ages 9 and 10.
He claimed the first-place trophy from the Future Champions Chess Challenge in November at the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill.
“Evan improved rapidly because he loves chess and takes the initiative in consulting chess books and game scores, learning from both classic and current grandmaster games,” said Franklin Chen of Squirrel Hill, one of his instructors. “Because of his frequent participation in tournaments, he has developed the experience and resilience necessary for competition at a high level.”
Park tries to practice an hour a day and said he enjoys the game because it allows him to think, make friends, travel and earn prizes.
He donates some of his earnings to a fellowship dinner he and his family regularly attended when they lived in Michigan.
He has big goals.
“I hope to become a National Master soon, an International Master before I turn 13 and a Grandmaster before 16,” he said.
Alexander Shabalov, another of Park's instructors, said Park will be an underdog in his first world event.
“He will be competing against his peers from China, Russia, India and other countries, where kids traditionally start playing chess early and have long-standing traditions of government-supported chess education,” said Shabalov, of Squirrel Hill. “(I) hope that Evan will bring his fighting spirit and a lack of pressure regarding the final result to work to his advantage.”
Chen expects Park's mental toughness to help.
Karen Kadilak is a Tribune-Review contributor.