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CHESS COURSE AT HCC DEVELOPS/ATTRACTS TALENT

BY BRANDON T. BISCEGLIA

BRIDGEPORT – At Housatonic Community College, chess is not just for casual players.

Kajal Patel of Milford, should know. At the age of 11, she’s already something of a local phenomenon, having recently participated in several major tournaments and winning high marks - including at the Continental Open in Sturbridge, MA, and the 2008 Philadelphia World Open this July, where she tied for 5th place in her section. She has also enrolled in Introduction to Chess – Theory and Practice, one of the Continuing Education courses being offered at Housatonic this month.

Mario Russo of Trumbull, who teaches the course, is responsible in part for getting Patel where she is. The two met through the Boys and Girls Club in Shelton, where he runs a chess club that hosts approximately 30-40 enthusiasts on a weekly basis. “About a year ago,” he says, “her parents approached me about giving her private lessons.” He saw her potential, and agreed.

When he took her under his wing, Patel was just beginning to shine. She has since flourished under Russo’s tutelage; it was he who began taking her around to major tournaments.

“I’ve brought her around to the local tournaments, to all of my tournaments,” he says. “She’s become the best student I have. She’s making tremendous progress.”

For Russo, teaching at Housatonic is a natural extension of his work. As a nationally rated tournament director, he has a resume in organizing chess that dates back to the 70’s. The course focuses on the historical background of chess, terminology and various modes of play. “There are some things we can do through the school that we can’t through the Boys and Girls Club,” he says. “The Club is only for children from 6-16. But anyone 12 and up can take the class.”

For Patel, studying at Housatonic will come as a natural extension of her game. “I took the course because then I would also know the history of chess,” she explains. She would like to become a grand master one day. She knows the rough will be rough.

“It takes a pretty long time to get to the top,” she says.

Along with Patel, several players from the Boys and Girls Club have registered for the Introduction to Chess class. Others who are still too young to attend Housatonic are eagerly waiting for their turn. Among them is 9-year-old Ryan Zahornacky of Bridgeport. “I’ve known Ryan since he was a baby,” says Russo. “He’s a natural chess player – and he knows it.”

Meanwhile, Patel serves as a fitting example of what is possible. “They see Kajal doing it,” says Russo, “and they say, ‘why not me?’”

The class will run on Fridays from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm, September 19-December 12. The fee is $99. For more information, contact HCC Continuing Education at 203-332-5057, or visit www.hcc.commnet.edu.

HCC’s Continuing Education courses, offered in areas such as business, art, website design & graphics, Windows applications, and languages, feature rolling start dates, with courses beginning throughout the semester. The fees range from $0 to $499.

Brandon T. Bisceglia is a journalism student/intern at Housatonic Community College