Grandmaster gives back through class

Yury Shulman teaches Joshua Kurtzer, left, and Tristan Cooper, at the St. Matthew Lutheran Church chess club in Hawthorn Woods, Ill., on Sept. 20. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, PAUL VALADE

AP

Yury Shulman teaches Joshua Kurtzer, left, and Tristan Cooper, at the St. Matthew Lutheran Church chess club in Hawthorn Woods, Ill., on Sept. 20. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, PAUL VALADE

By Madhu Krishnamurthy

HAWTHORN WOODS, Ill. – Six-year-old Tristan Cooper’s gaze follows the pieces on the checkered board in front of him.

The enraptured first-grader is the youngest member of a new chess club at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Hawthorn Woods taught by Grandmaster Yury Shulman.

For an hour every Thursday, Tristan soaks up Shulman’s lessons on chess like a sponge.

Though only a beginner, he knows enough to be a tough opponent, said his grandfather, Ron Cooper of Grayslake.

In learning the game of kings and queens, Ron Cooper said, it doesn’t get any better than being trained by a grandmaster, the game’s most prestigious title.

“I learned under the tutorship of somebody like (Shulman) at high school, but did not follow the game at all,” 65-year-old Cooper said. “I’m learning again to play (Tristan) and he’s beating me already.”

Inspired by her grandchildren’s love for the game, Joan Eickelberg of Lake Zurich launched the club earlier this year as a community outreach effort.

“I had this dream of getting a chess club going,” the 70-year-old Eickelberg said.

It drew about 15 participants the first week, and more have joined since. Players range in age from 6 to 72, with varying skill levels. After 10 classes, players will face off in a tournament this spring. Shulman plans to teach another session after that.

Landing Shulman was a coup, Eickelberg said.

“You have no idea the response I have gotten from people,” she said. “They are just beside themselves to have someone of this caliber.”

Shulman, 32, of Barrington, is ranked eighth in the United States, and among the top 150 players in the world. He tied for third place in the 2007 U.S. Chess Championship. He will be among 128 players vying in the FIDE World Chess Cup 2007 tournament, Nov. 22 through Dec. 18 in Khanty Mansiysk, Siberia.

“I hope that I am helping,” Shulman said during a recent class at St. Matthew. “You may say you don’t need a grandmaster to learn beginner’s chess. Hopefully, I can share my experience.”

A transfixed Ryan Thorne, 11, of unincorporated Forest Lake, can’t take his eyes off the board when Shulman explains moves.

“I just play it for fun,” he said. “He’s a good teacher.”

Thorne has been playing chess from a young age and wants to learn advanced attacking.

“It’s a really great opportunity, especially for him,” said his father, Mark Thorne. “You don’t often get somebody like that so close. We were kind of surprised.”

Shulman coaches children and adults through his International Chess School in Barrington, and at chess camps, area schools and formal chess schools.

“It feels like you accomplished something,” he said. “I like the sparkles in their eyes when they try to capture (a piece). You can see the whole thought process. Later on when they get better, you can’t see that.”

Yury Shulman plays chess simultaneously with multiple players and blindfolded, but believes he can still learn a thing or two about the game.

“Chess is a game you could never stop learning,” he said. “Even I can teach grandmasters and grandmasters can teach me.”