Chess Kids, Two Decades Later
By Dr. WIM Alexey Root   
June 30, 2011
dvd.jpgThe original Chess Kids video, 51 minutes long, was filmed in 1990 and released in 1996. It was hailed by TV Guide as "inspiration in the flesh" and won numerous awards. Now Director Lynn Hamrick has released a Chess Kids special edition follow-up DVD. Some of the stars are well-known in the chess world. IM Josh Waitzkin is the author of The Art of Learning while GM Judit Polgár's chess successes are frequently documented. Chess Kids shares their thoughts and emotions, along with those of other "Chess Kids."   

Hamrick emailed, "For the original Chess Kids, I had very little time to shoot during the World Youth Chess Tournament in Fond du Lac as the kids were playing two rounds of chess per day over a four-day period." Perhaps because of this short time frame, the original video seems less in depth than the follow-up, which consists of lengthy interviews with some of the "Chess Kids" as adults. Hamrick emailed, "The Chess Kids follow-up got started a few years back when Morgan Pehme and I ran into each other as we both had films in a film festival in California. I mentioned to Morgan I was thinking about doing a follow-up. He said he would help me locate people and his film company could help with production equipment and crew." The Chess Kids special edition follow-up DVD contains both the original 1996 video and the interviews conducted over the past few years.

The 30-minute follow-up features Hamrick asking the grown-up "Chess Kids" to reflect on the original Chess Kids video. In 1990, Polgár won the under-14 boys section. Other future chess stars competed in the under-14 girls and the under-12 and under-10 boys and girls sections. About a clip of Peter Leko and her in the tournament hall, Polgár says, "It was kind of funny, looking at it from now that he was 10, looking at me, admiring me. Now he's one of the top." She gives an amused smile. Interspersed with 1990 footage of Waitzkin talking about liking girls, Waitzkin as an adult says, "I can tell I was very caught up in the issues of being a 13, 14-year-old boy. Seventeen years later, the same guy. What can I say." Waitzkin then flashes the same wide grin he had as a teenager.

Waitzkin and fellow "Chess Kid" Pehme share the effects of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer on their lives. Clips from Searching for Bobby Fischer show actors portraying Waitzkin as a child prodigy and Pehme as his younger chess friend.

Although Waitzkin, Polgár, and Pehme are perhaps the most famous "Chess Kids," there were more than a dozen others interviewed in 1990. The follow-up tells what happened to them. At the start of the follow-up are brief career summaries, taken from the Internet, about a handful of the international players not interviewed as adults. For the "Chess Kids" interviewed as adults, Hamrick saves footage of them talking about their careers until the end. It's an exciting finale to learn that several have prominent academic and business positions. And they credit chess for helping them achieve their successes.

Chess Kids special edition follow-up DVD is a charming addition to a home collection, to see chess players talk, smile, play, laugh, and reflect. Because it shows both the young chess prodigies and the successful adults they've become, Chess Kids is also a valuable addition to the libraries of chess advocates and educators. It can be ordered at

WIM Alexey Root is the author of The Living Chess Game: Fine Arts Activities for Kids 9-14 (Libraries Unlimited, Santa Barbara, CA; 2011) and a frequent contributor to Chess Life and Chess Life Online. See her amazon page for info on all her titles.