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Liam: He's a great little Mover

Little Liam Kopaloff is all of seven years old. He is a beautiful child who loves mint ice-cream, supports West Ham and Barcelona football clubs, and enjoys Jackie Chan movies. Oh, and he plays the Queen's Gambit as White and Sicilian Defense as Black on the chessboard.

Liam, all 50 inches of him, is Israel's number one chess player in the seven-year-old category with 20 tournament victories (and trophies) to his name, and an impressive string of achievements. This year, he took first place in the prestigious Czerniak memorial event in Tel Aviv, and finished first in the under-8 Open National Championships (almost all of the 90 competitors had reached the grand old age of 8). In the adult league, he scored a ridiculous 12 wins from 12 games, and took first place in the particularly strong Netanya Championships.

Liam is coached by his dad, Nick Kopaloff, who moves a mean knight himself. Father Kopaloff is a chess candidate master and national coach, who runs Mahalachim, a chess training company. Nick, a past Jerusalem Post chess correspondent and Content Editor for former World Champion Garry Kasparov's website, had high hopes for his boy from the get-go. Just after his son was born, the proud father registered a mock-world chess championship event for babies under one month old. Liam was the only applicant – so he won by default. "On his pidyan haben I presented him with a world championship trophy for babies," recalls Nick, "so my vicarious dream made me the daddy of a wee world champ!"

Little did Nick know that within a few years Liam would be beating bona fide contestants to bring home trophies of his own. And yet, it did not come as a complete surprise. "Almost any child has the possibility to shine at something," claims Kopaloff, "if he or she is coached properly and given the proper tools. And, of course, then he has to practice a lot."

Liam is not the only beneficiary of this can-do attitude. The older Kopaloff trains many other chess champions alongside his Netanya Chess Club co-director FIDE Master Michael Lurie. FIDE, Fédération Internationale des Échecs, is the organization that governs international chess competition. The method of teaching is based upon a model they developed called "Climbing the Chess Castle." Students improve their chess by ascending three slopes: the psychological, the tactical, and the strategic. The psychological slope entails emotional intelligence, the tactical focuses on tricks and combinations, and the strategic tackles planning and evaluation.

There is more, of course, to chess than "cheapos", "fried livers", and quick Scholars Mate attacks. As in any competition, true winners are cool and confident, and can deal with the heavy emotional pressure of high-profile international events.

When you are not yet old enough to cross the road by yourself, this kind of stress can be hard to handle. 

The young chess champ and proud parents

In September, Nick headed an Israeli delegation of 66 members (29 youth players) to the European Championships in Montenegro where the Israeli teams finished close to the top both proportionately and aggregately.

Israel took first place in the girls' under-10 category, second in the girls' under-18, joint second in 16-year-old boys (4th after tie break).

Next year the team is headed for the European Championships in Georgia and the World Championships in Durban, South Africa.

Deep Blue: Beware. Move over Fischer and goodbye Kasparov. Liam Kopaloff is about to knock you off the board.

Remember: you saw it here first! Watch this space. 



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Thursday, 13 June 2024

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