Left Foot, Right Foot — Zoey Tang’s US Girls Junior Championship Experience

“Focus on the step ahead of you, not the whole staircase” ~Unknown

This was the quote running through my head when I scanned the email for the umpteenth time, not believing the words. Every small step I had taken, every hour I had invested in my chess journey had led me to this grand achievement. It didn’t feel so long ago that I was watching my idols play chess on television for the national title, and now it was my turn.

I had just received my invitation to the US Girls Junior Championship, a prestigious tournament held by the Saint Louis Chess Club. Every year, there are five national championships: the Junior Championship (under 20 years old), the Girls Junior Championship (under 20), the Championship, the Women’s Championship, and the Senior Championship (over 50). And almost every year, it has been held at Saint Louis, the chess capital of the world.

Each championship has only ten slots for the best players of the U.S., so I was very excited when I received my invitation to participate in the Girls Junior section. The weeks afterward were a flurry of shopping for dresses, preparing for my opponents, and playing in tournaments. I even got interviewed twice for local news, a new and highly nerve-wracking experience for me. After reuniting with my friends at the opening ceremony, it was time to face them over the board as opponents in the following games.

The Saint Louis Chess Club was so fancy, almost exactly as I remembered watching it on TV. DGT boards built into the tables, miniature clipboards to prevent sliding, built-in coasters and ledges for refreshments… And that’s not to mention the cameras. I never imagined that the beautiful shots in the broadcasts actually involved people with huge cameras strolling through the tournament hall (it sounds intuitive, but it wasn’t to me at the time). The tournament was run very smoothly, for which I can thank the arbiters and the whole team at the club.

My final score was not exactly what I wished for, but I played many interesting games of fighting chess. It was nice to experience such high-level competition after so many months of COVID and online blitz.

Overall, I had a great time at this acclaimed tournament. Looking back, I can now confidently say that every time I chose to study chess instead of slacking off was worth it. After all, those are the small stepping stones to success, no matter how far across the river it may seem.

P.S. I will be hosting a Q&A seminar on August 8th. More details can be found here.

-Zoey Tang