July 8, 2010

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Young chess expert to showcase skills at book festival

Will Fisher (right) before a game of chess with former CHCA president Tolis Vardakis (left) on the patio of the Chestnut Grill last Thursday.

In a few years, Bobby’s name might not be the first one we think of when hearing “chess” and “Fischer” together. Germantown Friends School Sophomore Will Fisher (only that mid-name “c” away from sharing a surname with Bobby) is a local up-and-coming chess champion, and he’ll be playing right here in Chestnut Hill on Sunday, July 11.

He will provide an interactive segment of the 2nd annual Chestnut Hill Book Festival, taking on challengers in Buckley Park, at Germantown Avenue and Hartwell Lane, immediately after Dan Heisman, a renowned Philadelphia chess master, introduces the chess portion of the festival at 5 p.m. at The Stagecrafters theater.

Fisher plans to play between 10 and 20 matches, depending on the level of his opponents. Anyone can challenge Fisher to a match on Sunday – a win would mean playing at the level of a National Master, a title Fisher is only 35 points away from grabbing.

Fisher currently ranks at 2165, which gives him “Expert” status. The rating is an estimate of skill level based on prior tournament results. At Fisher’s high level of play, ratings change only in small increments, between 1-40 points per game, and games can last up to six hours – Fisher has worked hard for his status. Though Experts are in the top 1 percent of all chess players in the United States Chess Federation (USCF), Fisher continues to pursue the National Master title relentlessly.

This year, Fisher has accomplished a number of notable chess feats. In March he won the 2010 Greater Philadelphia High School Championship, followed by a performance in the Philadelphia open in which he not only raised his rank but earned himself the largest cash prize. He then gained entry into the Greater Philadelphia Junior Invitational where he dominated, tying for first place with a New Jersey Master. Chestnut Hill will host the Junior Invitational next year, by which time Fisher is hoping to attain Master status.

The ever-ambitious Fisher will use his earnings to fund a trip to South Africa for his January independent project during his junior year of high school, where he will work with Chess for Change to introduce chess to schools.

Fisher owes part of his success to his New York coaches Sunil Weeramantry and David Macenulty. The latter may sound familiar – he introduced chess as an academic subject to PS 70 in the Bronx and led his crew to the State Scholastic Championship in 1994. Macenulty’s story is featured in the film “Knights of the South Bronx,” starring Ted Danson.

When Fisher began playing Chess competitively, at age 13, Macenulty and Weeramantry helped him gain the skills to win the 2006 New York State <1600 Chess Championship. Fisher practiced at the Marshal Chess Club in Greenwich Village and the tables in Union Square and Washington Square Park until his family relocated to Chestnut Hill in 2009.

Chestnut Hill was home to Fisher’s maternal grandparents, Ellen and Philip Crow, for 20 years, and thus the Fisher’s were familiar with the neighborhood before settling down here. Fisher applied to local high schools Penn Charter and Germantown Friends School, and enrolled in GFS for the 2009-2010 school year. Fisher regularly wows GFS students with his skills during the weekly chess club session, which consists mostly of group members watching Fisher in awe.

This summer, Fisher has filled his schedule with chess commitments. He has already logged 50 tournament hours over the July 4th weekend, where he competed against high-rank adult chess players in nine grueling matches. He will attend a program at the ICA Chess Academy before his Chestnut Hill demonstration on Sunday, and he plans to compete in the 2010 North American Youth Championship in Montreal in August.

Fisher, used to high-level timed tournament play, will be a fierce competitor for any Chestnut Hill resident brave enough to take him on this weekend. In fact, he was prepared to play the matches blindfolded, but certain conditions prohibited. Good luck to Fisher’s challengers.



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