When 18-year-old Eric Rosen sits down in front of the chessboard on July 10 at the U.S. Junior Closed Championship, he'll be the only one from the Chicago area battling for the title.
He'll be the 7th seed in the competition, with well-founded hopes of a performance at least as impressive as during the prestigious championship two years ago, when he qualified by "somehow" winning the U.S. Junior Open. And he learned to love chess in Chicago, 10 years after his brother taught him the game on a family vacation in the Bahamas.
"I would say Chicago is one of the better spots in the country to play chess," said Rosen, a Niles North grad who's headed to University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in the fall. "There are a lot of strong players."
One of those strong players is Rosen's coach, grandmaster Dmitry Gurevic, who won the Illinois Blitz Chess Championship earlier this year.
"He's taught me everything I know," said Rosen, whose preparations for the upcoming tournament will include working with Gurevic to examine recent matches in-depth. Rosen, of Skokie, plays an hour or two every day and also does chess puzzles in his spare time.
The junior championship, held July 10-15 in St. Louis, is the biggest-name chess competition for players younger than 21. Competitors are invited based on rankings of their skill level. Rosen has attained the level of FIDE Master, an accomplishment of which he's particularly proud. But beyond skill, he said, preparation is the name of the game.
Anyone can play chess, but it takes a certain type of person to become an elite player, he said. Rosen has taught chess before and knows the keys to success.
"You have to have some passion for the game. You have to be willing to study it," Rosen said. "It takes a lot of hard work to really gain a lot of chess knowledge."
That's work Rosen may not be able to do as often once he starts at U of I, where he will study math and computer science. He plans to continue teaching chess, at least, but might have to let the competitions take a backseat to his studies for a while.
For now, though, Rosen will be focusing on getting ready for the junior championship, something that will require going over many of his opponents' past chess games and examining his own technique. It's part of the run-up to such an important contest. The first-place winner brings home $4,000, and all of the 16 finalists will win a prize.
"There are definitely some nerves," Rosen said. But, "I tell myself, just play chess... See what happens."
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