A couple of times a week, sisters Rebecca and Melissa Giblon head to a room in their Thornhill home while their dad, Andrew, takes a chessboard and sits down in another.
Melissa and Rebecca Giblon
Melissa and Rebecca Giblon
couple of times a week, sisters Rebecca and Melissa Giblon head to a
room in their Thornhill home while their dad, Andrew, takes a
chessboard and sits down in another.
Then they start to play, Andrew with the board in front of him, Rebecca and Melissa relying solely on their memories and imagination to visualize the placement of the knights and pawns, listening to their dad’s moves and instructing him where to move their pieces.
Although new to blind chess, the girls, who play as a team, can go about 15 to 20 moves before they lose track of the board and begin to run into trouble, Andrew said.
Still, that’s not too bad, considering the complexity of the game and the need to recall the placement of all 32 pieces.
Rebecca and Melissa are clearly no ordinary chess players. Though only 11 and 10 respectively, they’re Canadian champions in their age groups. Andrew, by contrast, admits to being only a middling tournament player.
There are a number of theories as to what it takes to be an accomplished chess player. Andrew believes it’s half natural ability – the ability to think logically, analyze moves, recognize patterns – and half hard work – solving chess puzzles, reading books and playing games.
For Rebecca, there’s another element at play: “I really like how its an intellectual challenge,” she said in a telephone conversation. “It makes me feel really good to spot a tactic or a combination. It’s like solving a puzzle.”
Melissa likewise enjoys employing her thinking processes. “It’s kind of like you can play a game and have fun and use your mind to figure out the best kind of things to do,” she said.
Both girls relish competitions, and in 2007, their breakout year, Rebecca was crowned Canada’s under-10 champion in her first appearance at a national tournament.
That same year, Melissa tied for third in the under-8 category. Both made it onto the Canadian national team and participated in an international tournament that attracted 1,500 players from nearly 200 countries. Rebecca finished 59th out of 105 competitors in her age group; Melissa was 40th out of 72.
Both girls began their chess careers while still in Grade 1, taking group lessons at the local community centre. They were inspired by their older cousin, Simon Gladstone, who was a top player in his age group at the time.
After a couple of years, Rebecca graduated to private lessons under Roman Pelts, an international master and three-time Canadian chess Olympian.
Melissa followed suit and Andrew, to ensure they would have a worthy opponent in “sparring” sessions, joined them in the lessons.
The girls put in at least one hour a day (often closer to two) in studying the game, and twice a week they play games that can last one to three hours each. They also switched coaches to Yan Teplitsky, a former Canadian Olympic team player, and they work with him twice a week in two-hour sessions.
Their hard work clearly paid off when this past season, they each became Ontario Youth Chess Champions and then advanced to the Canadian Youth Chess Championships in Victoria in July.
Blindfolded chess, which was recently added to their training repertoire, “is designed to allow them to visualize and train them to calculate positions in their head,” Andrew said.
So why are his daughters so good at the game?
“On the one hand, they’re each gifted scholastically,” Andrew responds.
Although they finished three or four years at Leo Baeck Day School, they now attend Henderson Avenue Public School in Thornhill, which is geared to gifted children. They still make time for private Hebrew lessons as well as group classes, and they swim, ski and engage in other activities as well.
And they put in the work.
In mid-November, Andrew will take off three weeks to accompany his girls to the World Youth Chess Championships in Antalya, Turkey.
“I’m not expecting them to make chess a career, but it’s is a fantastic way to see parts of Canada and the world they wouldn’t otherwise have seen,” he said.