CHECKMATE!Child chess whiz Rochelle Wu earns awards in state, national and international tournaments
Written By Emily Sparacino
Photos By Dawn Harrison and The Wu Family
When 11-year-old Rochelle Wu sits down at a chess board, she takes command of the kings, queens, rooks, bishops, knights and pawns dotting the checkered plane in front of her.
Considering she started playing chess as a 6-year-old, Wu’s mastery of the game is no surprise to her family.
Lizhi Wu, Rochelle’s father, said she started playing at the same time as her older brother, Sijing, who wanted to spend time with his friend that was learning chess.
“So, we think it is not a bad idea to send the siblings to learn something together, especially when very soon we realized both of them were interested in chess and improved fast,” Lizhi said. “At the beginning, they took lessons from local coaches, then started to take online chess lessons from coaches from India and Serbia.”
Rochelle, a former Bluff Park Elementary School student, started competing in local scholastic chess tournaments five years ago “for fun,” Lizhi said.
“Two years later, she started to play more seriously and frequently against adult players in tournaments,” he said.
Lizhi and his wife, Jianmin Xu, have driven Rochelle and her brother to cities all over the United States on more than 40 weekends to compete in domestic tournaments.
Rochelle has also competed and placed in international tournaments, including the World Youth Chess Championship in South Africa in 2014 (sixth place), World Youth and Cadets Championship in Greece in 2015 (15th place) and World Cadets Championship in Georgia in 2016.
“I enjoy going to tournaments, making new friends and traveling to different places,” Rochelle said.
Her chess titles include Candidate Master of the United States Chess Federation, Woman Candidate Master of the World Chess Federation and World Youth U10 Girl Champion.
Her chess awards in Alabama are: first place in the 2015 Alabama State Scholastic Chess Championship, Primary section (K-3); first place in the 2016 Alabama State Scholastic Chess Championship, Elementary section (K-6); and first place in the 2017 Alabama State Scholastic Chess Championship, Open section (K-12).
On the national chess scene, Rochelle represented Alabama in the 2016 U.S. Chess Nationals Girls Tournament of Champions and won the Ursula Foster Award as the best girl player under 13 years old.
On Nov. 21, 2016, Sen. Jabo Waggoner issued a resolution to Rochelle commending her chess achievements. In March, the Hoover City Board of Education issued a certificate of appreciation to her.
Lizhi said Rochelle has been a member of ChessKidsNation, a local club, and has taken private chess classes from local coaches Charles Smith and Caesar Lawrence.
“Currently, she is taking online lessons from variant resources,” he said. “Rochelle has received invitation from Kasparov Chess Foundation (Kasparov was former World Chess Champion) and will join the Young Stars – Team USA Program this summer. Only a few top junior players have been offered this opportunity.”
Also, she is one of the candidate players from the U.S. team to play the Match of the Millennials – USA vs. the World this summer. If she is not chosen for the match, she will play in the 2017 U.S. Chess National Girls Tournament of Champions as the representative of Alabama again, according to Lizhi.
Rochelle said she has learned life lessons and fostered many long-distance friendships through chess.
“I learned that even if you lose a bunch of games, you have to keep fighting,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of new friends through chess. They are all over the country.”
To anyone that doubts her dedication to the game, she said: “I will always continue to play chess, for my whole life.”