By Sarah Whitman
Senior Staff Writer
The 9-year-old chess prodigy earned the championship title at the Super States 7 tournament last month in Miami, where she competed against hundreds.
“I am so proud of her,” said mom Heidi Truong. “She is amazing. When she plays people gather around to watch, waiting to see what her next move will be.”
Nguyen played her first chess game two years ago. She learned the basics from her dad, William Wallace, and from the chess club at Pine View Elementary, where she is a third grader. The more than 40 trophies displayed at her Land O’ Lakes home are evidence of her natural talent.
“To be a good chess player, you have to learn how to move the pieces and about tricks,” Nguyen said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Nguyen, an only child, has competed in tournaments throughout Florida and the United States. She placed 8th in the 2009 Turkey Bowl in Ft. Lauderdale, where she made it to the final round and matched with adult players.
“She was playing with people in their 50s,” Truong said. “She played for four hours and never lost focus.”
Nguyen practices four nights a week, at school and at the Tampa Bay Chess Club. She likes playing against older children and adults.
“I like the challenge,” she said. “When I beat someone older, I get a lot of compliments.”
Coach Willard Taylor of the Tampa Bay Chess Club is continually impressed by Nguyen.
“Her work ethic is what pushes her and she has such a love for the game,” Taylor said. “Chess is a very male dominated game, so when a female comes along it’s really inspiring.”
Nguyen said she gets nervous at tournaments but doesn’t let it get in the way of her game.
“I write notes to myself to remember to breathe,” she said. “If I get tired, I just take deep breaths.”
Nguyen’s parents taught her a phrase to repeat when she feels overwhelmed: Blunder Alert.
“We taught her to remember to be on blunder alert,” Wallace said. “It means she needs to take her time and stay focused, or she’ll make a mistake.”
Nguyen makes few mistakes. She studies the game and other players like a professional. She even has signature moves.
She likes to open a game with what she calls the Scotch gambit. The move involves moving a knight and a pawn, which forces the other player to do the same or otherwise forfeit pieces.
“I like the knight best because it can attack two pieces at once and jump other pieces,” Nguyen said. “The king is the most important piece but the knight is my favorite.”
Wallace said his daughter’s abilities have far surpassed his own.
“I’ve given up playing her,” he said. “She beats me so easily.”
Nguyen aspires to become a women’s world chess champion. She met the current women’s champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk, at a tournament in Miami; then saw her again at states.
“She (Kosteniuk) remembered Hailey,” Taylor said. “She watched Hailey throughout the tournament to see how she would do and was excited as the rest of us when she won.”
No one was as excited as Nguyen’s mom.
“All the parents were cheering and congratulating me,” Truong said. “I cried. I was so happy.”
Nguyen said the secret to chess is as simple as thinking before you act. Her favorite school subject is math, because she enjoys thinking logically. Chess is her time to shine.
“You have to look out for hidden traps,” she said. “You have to plan your moves.”