Pittsburgh chess tournament supports girls


Armed with kings, queens, knights and pawns, girls are defying the idea that chess is a man’s game.

On Saturday, girls between second and eighth grade gathered at Oakland Catholic High School in North Oakland to participate in a chess tournament. 

The free event was organized by Pitt freshman Anjana Murali, who is also a staff writer for The Pitt News. The ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, a partnership between Ann Taylor LOFT and Vital Voices, which invests in leadership programs for women, gave Murali a $1,850 grant to put on the event.

Three teams competed based on ability, ranging from beginner to advanced, and were coached by Pitt and Duquesne students.

John Ahlborg, a Pitt senior majoring in neuroscience and pharmacy, taught the girls how to play the game and encouraged them to stimulate their thinking and learn how to problem-solve. He taught them how to win using specific game strategies.

“I play chess on my own, and I wanted to start teaching it a little,” Ahlborg said. “The chess tournament was a great idea for a great cause.”

Jeff Flohr, the event coordinator and a former teacher at Oakland Catholic High School, said the event promotes gender empowerment.

“The goal of this event is to emphasize that chess is gender neutral,” Flohr said. “It’s also to encourage the girls to play chess even though it is perceived as a male sport.” 

The three groups played together, learning from each other and making new friends. As the girls played, they laughed while remaining competitive and focused. Several girls prodded each other on and insisted that their opponents take their turns faster. Many of the young women said they enjoyed chess and already knew how to play.  

Olivia Oleary, a third grader from Environmental Charter School participating in the chess tournament, said she usually plays chess with her dad and brother. 

“The tournament sounded really fun, and I wanted to get better at chess,” Oleary said.

Eila Weathington, another third grader in the tournament, also wanted to improve her chess skills.

“I thought the tournament would be cool, and I wanted to learn other people’s playing styles and techniques,” Weathington said.

The older facilitators admired the capabilities of these young girls. 

Kaitlyn Loh, a Pitt freshman majoring in psychology and volunteer at the event, said she was impressed by the young women and their knowledge of the game. 

“I’m really impressed by how mature these girls are,” Loh said. 

At the end of the tournament, all the girls participating received a free T-shirt — designed by Murali — a free chess set, a medal and some new chess-playing friends.

Loh explained that even though the chess tournament wasn’t specifically designed to teach the girls to take initiative and be good leaders, the girls still took away these skills at the end of the tournament. 

“We saw one of the girls teaching a younger girl how to play, and she took initiative to be a leader,” said Loh. “We didn’t have to tell them to do any of that. They did that on their own.”

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