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Jersey Girl Organizes All-Girls Chess Camp Print E-mail
By Robert N. Bernard   
November 17, 2014
We’ve all heard the talk -- girls drop out of chess at a rate faster than boys.  By the time they arrive at middle school and high school there are far fewer girls playing in tournaments compared with boys, and indeed, the ranks of women players is just a tiny proportion of the number of men.  So how can we get more girls involved in chess and motivate them to keep playing?

Alice Dong, a 2044-rated sixteen year old junior at Princeton (NJ) High School, is doing her part to get more girls involved in chess.  She planned, organized, and executed a two-day chess camp for girls in New Jersey, during the state’s two-day teachers’ convention break on Thursday and Friday, November 6 and 7.  Alice’s goal was clear.  She stated “By increasing the number of girls who are introduced to chess, hopefully the number of girls who continue and maintain their interest will increase as well.”  In fact, thanks to sponsorship and donations, all the girls were able to attend the camp for free.

Indeed, it was lucky for the 41 girls that attended that Alice was even playing chess in the first place. “When I was in first grade... in my first class and game ever, I was completely wiped out by a very little boy, who was at least two years younger than me.”  So discouraged by the slaughter, Alice didn’t pick up the game until a year later. The young boy who beat Alice all those years ago grew up to be IM Jeffery Xiong!

During the two-day camp, the girls played chess, attended lectures.  Some of the girls were true beginners, some knew how the pieces moved, and others were capable players.  The girls were broken into groups depending on their skill level.   It wasn’t 100% intense chess study however; other activities included a unicorn drawing contest and a hair braiding competition!

Role models in chess are important to Alice, and the Polgar sisters are hers.  In fact, Alice won the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls in 2012.  “[It] was one of the few all girls tournaments that I have ever been able to attend. Girls are very different with each other after games [than boys are],” Alice remarked. “Even after losing a long, tough game, the atmosphere tends to remain more friendly than when boys are involved.”

Alice enlisted two other high-rated girls from New Jersey to assist her in teaching at the camp, Maryia Oreshko and Angelica Chin.  “As girls, we want to share our knowledge and experience with these participants, who are venturing into this wonderland of chess.”

Oreshko and Dong

Perhaps these three older girls can serve as role models for the younger players.  Alice wasn’t shy about proclaiming that is one of her goals.  “I want them to realize that chess is fun and cool, that it’s not just something for boys, and that girls can do well and dominate in this game too, like the three of us who will be at the camp.”

With these preparations, inspiring teachers, and state and community support, how did Alice think the camp turned out?  “The camp was a complete success,” Alice said.  “I was very happy with how many girls came and how much they seemed to enjoy the camp.”

Noreen Davisson, manager of the Dean of Chess facility, agreed.  “Overall, Alice and [her father] did an amazing job.  All the girls seemed very happy and I think most learned something.”

Alice was also impressed and pleased with the campers.  “The first day, there was a little girl who told me she wasn’t having fun,” Alice said.  “But by the next day, I found her ecstatic to be back.  It was in these moments where I was the proudest for organizing the camp.”

Alice was particularly grateful to IM Dean Ippolito for donating the space, Noreen Davisson for behind the scenes work, Maryia Oreshko, Angelica Chin, and Jim Mullanaphy for teaching and assisting at the camp, WFM Anu Patil for dropping by and showing a game, the New Jersey State Chess Federation for donating sets and boards to all the girls, all the other donors and sponsors (including the Princeton Chess Academy and the Kings and Queens Chess Academy), and finally her father, of course, for all his support and assistance.

For more information on the camp, see their webpage.  The camp is also on Facebook.  Donation information can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/gcnj2014