Grand Master Aleksandr Lenderman rated 2700+ faced WFM Martha Samadashvili rated 2000+ this 2016 at the Greater New Haven Winter Chess Tournament in Connecticut. In a remarkable game involving cunning, deep strategy and the tenacity of youth, Martha held her own against the NY GM to make a draw.
A week later, Martha faced a handful of students in a simultaneous chess exhibition to defeat all.
The following interview was conducted after Martha’s simul by Robert Lupone, a Tony Award Nominated actor and Artistic Director.
Robert: Martha you are student at AAG, 6th grade. You are new at the school this year. How do you like your new school?
Martha: I like the Albany Academies very much. The kids here are smart and everyone is very nice. And the school really supports you in your achievements.
Robert: Do you have a favorite class?
Martha: I like all my teachers but I like History best as a subject. Learning about the past is so interesting. And I like Geography too. I won the GEOBee (Geographic Bee) this year and I might go to Middle School States. The GEOBee is a competition between all the schools in the state. I won the Middle School competition and became the School champion for our School and then I had to take a qualifying exam and if I pass I will go to the state championship.
Robert: You travel nationally and internationally for chess tournaments. Can you tell us where you have gone in the past few months?
Martha: I was in Greece in October. I was playing at the World Youth Championship and I tied for 4th place out of about 120 kids.
Robert: Wow, congratulations.
Martha: Thank you
Robert: You must spend a lot of time playing chess and analyzing chess games to improve your own playing. Can you tell us a bit about your routine? What does an average day look like for you?
Martha: I spend a lot of time on chess when I come home from school. First, when I come home from school I do my homework, and then after that I just do chess. I take lessons from a strong Grand Master, George Kacheishvili. He lives in New York City. So we either travel, on Sundays, to where he is, or we do lessons by Skype.
Robert: So, when you say you play chess after homework, how many hours of homework and of chess do you put in each day?
Martha: So after homework I play chess or study chess for probably 3 hours.
Robert: That is a lot of time. And as you get older you will be getting more homework. Do you ever end up going to bed at 1 in the morning because of all the work you do?
Martha: No not really. Well maybe sometimes.
Robert: Do you ever play your mom? Your dad?
Martha: Yes, sometimes my dad.
Robert: Does he ever get mad when you beat him at chess?
Martha: No, well, he does get upset a bit.
Robert: When did you decide to make chess such a big part of your life?
Martha: When I was seven, my Grandmother came from Georgia to the US and she decided to teach me to play chess. And at first she beat me easily but then she says she got the feeling that I really wasn’t playing as she would have expected that I was doing something special. So when I was 8 year old I was already going to the local chess tournaments organized by Make the Right Move. The first tournament I went to I won all my 4 games. I also used to go to the chess club at my old school and I would easily beat the teachers. And then we hired an International Master, Parmen Gelazonia, to be my coach. He helped me get from beginner to expert level in chess.
Robert: How long did that take?
Martha: About 3 years.
Robert: Do you have favorite players?
Martha: I like the World Champion Magnus Carlson. I also like former World Champions Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov. I like the way they play and their style. I like the way they attack and how all their pieces are in harmony. I just love their games.
Robert: Has it been important to you to watch women chess players be successful?
Martha: I look at women chess players as role models, because they were once girls like me. So I want to be like them. And some of them are really good. They sometimes beat the men world champions. (Kosteniuk v. Carlsen)
Robert: Do you think there is a difference in how men and women play chess?
Martha: No. Chess is a game of equal rights. If your idea is a good one then it will win on the board. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman.
Robert: How would you encourage someone who feels they are not good enough to be a chess player?
Martha: First of all to become a good chess player you need someone who guides you or coaches you. A good coach is someone who puts their time into you and teaches you everything he knows, the basics first and then little by little more complicated things. He should give homework weekly.
Robert: Does your coach give you homework?
Martha: Yes, he gives me homework every week. He explains chess strategy or positions and then he assigns something like looking at certain games between masters or playing certain positions from these games.
Robert: Do you play video-games?
Martha: No, I don’t play video-games.
Robert: Is Chess better than video-games?
Martha: I think so.
Robert: What is something chess teaches you that you think is an important skill?
Martha: With chess you really have to concentrate because if you lose your concentration you might make a bad move or miss something. People sometimes say that video-games also help you to concentrate but I think that with chess you have to be more unique and you have to find strategic solutions so it is a more thinking process than video games. It teaches you a better thinking process. I think that is valuable because it can help you with a lot of other things in life. Like when you take tests in school it is very valuable.
Robert: I am curious about the competitiveness of chess and how you handle it. For example, what do you do when you lose? How do you deal with that?
Martha: My coach teaches me not to get too upset about losing a game. You should just try to clear your mind, get a drink of water and try to stay calm and not dwell on the game you just lost. Because if you do chances are it will affect your playing in the next game and you won’t play as well. He also tells parents not to ask your child “why did you make that mistake?’ “What happened in your game?”. He tells parents to just ask the kid “did you learn something?”. And then you can go forward with a positive mindset.
Robert: That is very good advice. Is there any advice you can give to kids who want to try out chess but aren’t sure it’s the thing for them?
Martha: I would like everyone to try to play chess because it might help them in learning strategic thinking and concentration. They don’t have to be good but I think they should try it.
Robert: If each day was twice as long as it is what would you do with the added time?
(Here Martha pauses a bit and sits back in her seat)
Martha: I have to say…I wouldn’t study any more chess….. It gets a bit overwhelming. I would do other subjects like piano. I am really good at piano; I am currently at level 5 of 6. So piano is like my second main thing.
Robert: So do you also practice piano every day?
Martha: Yes, for one hour only.
Robert: So you do your homework for 2 hours a day, chess for 3 and piano for 1 hour? Wow. Your parents are too hard on you. You should talk to them.
(Here Martha gives a wry smile and the interviewer gets the impression she quite likes the way things are.)
Robert: So what are you playing on the piano?
Martha: I am playing pieces by Chopin and Beethoven right now and some of the other great classics. I have an evaluation in March and I need to play two complicated pieces so I have to practice a lot.
Robert: When I was playing an instrument as a kid I went to these state assessments where you would get graded on your playing….
Robert: Yes, that’s it. Do you go to those?
Martha: Yes I do.
Robert: Does chess have the same kind of structure? A place you go to for an exam?
Martha: No not really. There is the US Chess Federation that gives you a rating based on your performance in tournaments. So you go to tournaments and play other people to get a rating.
Robert: So how often do you go to tournaments?
Martha: I go to a minimum of two tournaments a month. This month there aren’t that many tournaments so I am only playing in two in February. I went to one this past Sunday.
Robert: So you have to travel to them sometimes?
Martha: Yes, a lot of the time.
Robert: Well Martha, You work very hard at homework, chess and piano and you also have to travel to tournaments several times a month. And some of those tournaments are international ones as well. I am quite impressed. Thank you for taking the time to come and play our chess club. We really appreciate and enjoy having you here.
Martha: Thank you for having me.