Bits 'n' Pieces: Teen chess expert aims to master

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Some kids pick up dodgeball or four squares at recess. Becca Lampman picked up chess. She was 9 years old.

"Eventually it became a lot more than just recess," she said. "I really fell in love with it and I started studying and playing, studying and playing all the time. I really like the challenge. It's a mind game and it's very addictive."

Now Lampman, 15 and a student at Union High School, is the 2012 Washington State Girls Champion as well as the second-highest-rated girl younger than 21 in the state. Her game has taken her everywhere from British Columbia to Maribor, Slovenia, where she was invited to play in the 2012 World Youth Chess Championship by the U.S. Chess Federation. Her record in that global clash of chess titans was four wins, four losses and three draws — against players including the women's champions from France and Malaysia and the girls' champion from India.

"It's really fun to travel and meet other players," she said. The two-week stint in Slovenia included some socializing and sightseeing, she said — but "most of the time I'm studying and working hard."

"Chess is all about ratings," said Becca's mother, Jill Lampman, with players' ratings rising or falling depending on their tournament wins and the ratings of their opponents; a strong school-aged player will typically gain about 100 points a year and then top off at a rating 1,500 or so — because the level of play is so competitive up there near the top.

But Becca's rating lifted off like a rocket: She quickly attained a rating of 1,000, Jill said, and then continued adding 300 points a year; now, with a recent win at a tournament in Gresham, Ore., her already high number has risen from 1,973 to 2,008. That's an Expert rating; more than 2,200 is a chess Master. The Gresham Open Chess Tournament was held Jan. 5 and 6 at Mt. Hood Community College. Becca bested 47 other players, including the tournament's only Master-rated player, Carl Haessler of Lake Oswego, Ore.

In the U.S. there are "approximately 20 girls under age 21 who are rated over 2,000, so Becca is now part of a very select group of female players," Jill said.

Becca said she means to go to college and major in business or finance. She's hoping to help pay her way with a chess scholarship. Meanwhile, she takes chess lessons from Grand Master Greg Serper of Bellevue — via Skype — because she wants to climb up from Expert to Master before she graduates.

There are just three girls in the United States younger than 21 who are rated over 2,200.

— Scott Hewitt

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.