Former No. 2 ranked player now coaching GW chess team

Members of the GW chess team can now say they have something in common with world champion Bobby Fischer: they both have had the same coach.

Chess Grand Master Lubomir Kavalek joined the GW chess team this month as its coach. Kavalek is a former No. 2-ranked player in the world, the former coach of Fischer, a GW graduate and a weekly contributor to The Washington Post.

The 16-member chess team is not new to GW, but in previous years it was not recognized by the University as a student organization. This year the University has recognized and funded the group.

“(Chess) is like literature,” Kavalek said during Saturday’s practice at the Alumni House. “You have your favorite writers and you can examine their styles in order to teach writing, you can also examine the style of older chess players to train newer players.”

“It’s that inspiration that can create such beautiful pictures on the board,” Kavalek said while discussing the pros and cons of various opening moves, including some that he created.

The GW chess team is in its first year back as an official student organization after team captains Stephen Weinstein and John Shindle, both sophomores, decided to form the group as a recognized student organization. Shindle said he is just happy about the team’s new coach.

“His background speaks for itself, as he was one of the best chess players in the world for many years,” Shindle wrote in an e-mail last week. “He is friendly, funny and patient, all characteristics that a good coach and person need to have.”

The most frequent attendees of the Saturday chess club meetings have some degree of chess experience, but it is not a requirement. The club meets on campus but also travels on occasion to tournaments such as the D.C. Open last month and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County tournament taking place in March. They hope to soon host one of their tournaments in Foggy Bottom.

Kavalek, 63, has been playing chess longer than most people at Saturday’s meeting have been alive. He learned the game at the age of 11 while in elementary school in his native Prague, then a part of Czechoslovakia. Kavalek went on to win a variety of youth tournaments, including the national youth tournament in Czechoslovakia, and then moved onto the international scene as a professional chess player in the early 1960s. In 1962 and 1968 he was the Czechoslovakian national champion.

After being driven out of his native country in the late 1960s by the Russian army, Kavalek came to Washington, D.C., and studied at GW. He graduated in 1971 with a degree in Slavic languages.

While attending classes Kavalek also found time to continue as a professional chess player, and in 1970 he won the U.S. Intercollegiate Championships. His game continued to improve, and in 1972 he was second in the world behind the man he coached to the world championships years before: Bobby Fischer, the most celebrated chess player in U.S. history. Fischer has also become well-known in the last 25 years for his reclusiveness; after years of avoiding the spotlight, he was arrested in Japan in 2004 for violating U.S. economic sanctions for playing a chess match in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

In addition to being a professional chess player and coach, Kavalek is also an acclaimed contributor to newspapers. His writing used to be printed in a variety of newspapers around the Czech Republic, and now appears in The Post.

Kavalek’s weekly column gives tips on chess moves, highlights news and events in the chess world and reviews historical moves in great chess matches.

Kavalek said that while practice makes perfect, the truly gifted chess players have another factor that drives them to win.

“With top players,” he said, “it’s difficult to pinpoint a style; it becomes a matter of character, of who wants it more.”

– Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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