Shinsaku Uesgui learned the value of locking up a college scholarship nice and early. As the winner of the Maryland State Scholastic Chess Championship three years ago, he defeated all of the Maryland high-school chess players in the tournament. His victory won him a full scholarship to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Uesugi was in seventh grade.
Now 14 years old and a rising sophomore at Winston Churchill High School, Uesugi is becoming an global-scale threat in chess. He attained the rank of Master chess player in the past year, and due to his dual citizenship in the United States and Japan, Uesugi competed in Japan’s 40th National Chess Championship in May. When he won the 39-player tournament, he became the youngest Japan National Chess Champion in history.
"I like thinking about the complicated chess positions, it’s very interesting," said Uesugi about his passion for the game of chess.
"HE IS VERY good in his tactics and strategies and a very good fighter in tournaments," said longtime coach Victor Sherman. "He always wants to win."
Sherman has worked with Uesugi since he joined the Beverly Farms Elementary School chess club in the 4th grade, a year after he moved to America from Japan.
"When I began working with him, I realized he was extremely talented," Sherman said of Shin. Sherman was a chess coach in Russia and now coaches chess in various schools in Montgomery County; he also has held summer chess camps for children since 1997.
Shin’s first big breakthrough came with his Maryland State Scholastic victory three years ago; this win opened several new doors and opportunities for Shin to compete in bigger chess tournaments.
Last December, Uesugi won the U.S. National Grade Championship for 9th-graders in Florida.
"In my career as a chess coach I have coached five grand masters," said Sherman. "Although Shin is not yet a grand master he is promised to be one."
"My coach looks at my chess game and advises me about what kind of studies I have to do," Shin said about Sherman. In order to prepare for his battles against the world’s top chess players, Shin studies chess in a very thick strategy book called "Nunn’s Chess Openings." He also plays against as many people as possible, including others worldwide through the Internet.
Against stronger players, matches can last up to six hours, and
"If I play many strong chess players; it can sometimes be tough," said Shin. "But then I play with my friends to forget everything."
This 14 year-old player endures games against strong players that can last up to six hours, and the only time a player can take a break is while his opponent is thinking. In a very strenuous game sometimes an opponent can take up to one hour for one move.
Uesugi’s mother, Masako Uesugi, recognizes that it is hard to balance school and his international chess tournaments.
"It is very hard to miss school for a few weeks and make up all of his school work due to some world level tournaments," said Masako Uesugi in a recent e-mail.
In addition to his commitments to international chess competition, Uesugi also found time to run for Churchill’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams during his freshman year, and he played for a Montgomery County Recreational League basketball team.
Uesugi also played for Churchill’s chess team, which beat Thomas Jefferson High School For Science and Technology (Alexandria, Va.) for the first D.C. Metro Area High School Chess League Tournament championship in school history last October.
Shin uses his expertise in chess to help guide a new generation of chess players, through volunteering as an assistant coach of the Cold Spring Elementary School chess team. As a certified chess tournament director; so he helps run local chess tournaments in the area.
AS ONE OF Japan’s top chess players, Shin will next represent Japan in the World Youth Chess Olympiad in Singapore from Aug. 4-12. Next year, Uesugi will also represent Japan in the Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany.
In response to all of this upcoming international exposure, however, Uesugi does not seem intimidated. After all, he won his first chess championship in fifth grade in Maryland, has competed internationally and is now is recognized as a chess champion on two continents.
"I don’t really feel nervous [before competitions], I usually am excited to see my friends," said Uesugi, concluding simply, "I look forward to making more friends in other countries."