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Building chess in the USA one step at a time: Charting the journey of Woman International Master Alexey Root

Published 29 Nov 2019, 10:20 IST
29 Nov 2019, 10:20 IST

Alexei Root UT Dallas Campus with the Living Chess Game. Credits- Dr.Alexey Root
Alexei Root UT Dallas Campus with the Living Chess Game. Credits- Dr.Alexey Root

Woman International Master (WIM) Alexey Root has a multi-folded personality. A competitive chess player who started playing when she was just 9 years old, Dr Root won the US Women's Championship title in 1989 after consecutive tries in 1981,1984, and 1986.

Overall, she competed in 10 U.S. Women's Chess Championships in her career and is one of the most well-known personalities in the chess community. She is now spreading her passion for the game by teaching and writing about it, apart from publishing numerous chess books for beginners as well.

She earned her Bachelor's degree in History and has a PhD in Education from UCLA. Based in Dallas, Texas, she is an instructor at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she lectures on chess- how it relates to math, education, and more.

A stalwart in promoting the beautiful 64-square game in the United States, Dr Root shares vivid stories and memories from her chess career and shines a light on her current area of focus. Excerpts below -

Q. How were you introduced to the game of chess? Can you describe the first few years of your career playing the sport?

I was introduced to chess by my father when I was five years old. He always let me win, which I liked. However, when I was nine, I told him to compete with me 'for real'. I defeated him because he wasn't a tournament player.

Then, he drove me to the Lincoln (Nebraska) Chess Club, where I learnt more rules that I hadn't been taught by my father. I played my first US Chess-rated tournament in 1975. In 1976, I was the Nebraska Elementary co-champion and took part in the first-ever National Elementary Championship, where I won the 'second girl' trophy.

Q. You achieved the WIM title and competed for the US Women Chess Team. Can you share some of your experiences?

I won the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship in the summer of 1989, the tournament is the biggest victory of my career in the game. Since 1989 was a 'zonal', I also earned the WIM title from that victory. In the same year, I even earned the US Chess National Master title. Overall, I competed in 10 U.S. Women's Chess Championships in my career.


I played in one Olympiad, which I just wrote about for ChessBase titled 'An Alternate’s Chess Olympiad'.

Q. When did you realise you wanted to make the switch into academia? 

To attend that 1990 Olympiad, which was from November 16 - December 4, I had to miss class meetings as part of my PhD courses at UCLA. I had begun my PhD program in the fall of 1989. Post that Olympiad, I didn’t choose to miss any more classes for chess.

Q. You completed your PhD from UCLA. Can you tell us a little about this journey and what motivated you to pursue this path? 

I pursued a PhD in part because of family expectations. Both my parents had advanced degrees, and both my sisters do too. I took 10 years to complete my PhD because I took the maximum amount of leave. I took leave to be with my young family, as my daughter was born in 1993, and my son was born in 1996.

Q. You now teach at the University of Texas at Dallas. You help people to heighten their skills using chess as a tool. What motivated you to take this up, and what are your biggest takeaways from this job?

I started working half-time at The University of Texas at Dallas in 1999, in the same year that I finished my PhD Since 2001, my half-time work at UT Dallas has been teaching Online Chess courses.

As of 2019, I’m still working half-time and online. In the near future, I may fill my extra 'half-time' with freelance writing or publishing an eighth book. My first seven ones are available on Amazon.

Q. You have done a lot to promote stories of chess players. Texas is also a state where chess is extremely popular, largely due to schools like UT Dallas and Texas Tech that have chess programs and recruit the best players. Can you explain your role and share some memories? 

From 1999-2003, I volunteered for the UT Dallas chess team. I shared a couple of my recruiting stories conducted by now-Women’s Program Director for US Chess Jennifer Shahade.

Since 2003, I have cooperated with the UT Dallas Chess Program, making its chess team’s events extra credit for my online students. For example, ten of my online students and I attended the team’s Svetozar Gligorić Transatlantic Cup. I also represent the UT Dallas Chess Program at some events, such as camp fairs since it runs summer chess camps.

Q. Do you still ever think of competing professionally again? 

I love playing in tournaments. However, I don’t know if I could raise my current strength in chess to compete at the professional level. My US rating is at its floor of 2000. To qualify for the U.S. Women’s Championship, which is one example of a tournament that pays professional-level prizes, I would have to regain or surpass my peak US Chess rating, which was 2260.

Q. Finally, any last piece of advice for our readers? 

One piece of advice for your readers is to enjoy following their fellow chess players. Because of chess, I’ve met interesting people from many different countries, of all ages, and from all walks of life. 

Modified 21 Dec 2019, 01:08 IST
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