Josh has all the right moves

SEARCHING FOR CHECKMATE

Josh Wallace may be the next Bobby Fischer, but he'd rather be a Boris Spassky. Since he's only in third grade, he has plenty of time to choose.

Josh is already the national champion in his age group, kindergarten through third grade, and the Colorado state champion in the same category.

"He has the ability to be any kind of player he wants to be," says Craig Wilcox, a chess expert and one of his teachers. "Josh has so many talents ... he has the speed of men three times his age and experience and that makes his potential very special."

At age 4, Josh started attending chess matches with his dad, Chris Wallace, who played with friends at a local chess club on Saturday mornings. "He started kibitzing and making suggestions to help me win," Mr. Wallace says, "good ones, until the other players wanted him to be quiet. I thought, 'This kid has talent.' "

So Wallace taught Josh all the moves, and as he began to blossom he signed him up for lessons twice a week with experts (there are no grandmasters living in Denver). Now, "the top players in town don't want to play me, they want to play Josh," Wallace says. "I'd like to think I could be an expert by the time Josh is a grandmaster," he adds.

Josh is better at speed chess than slow chess. "I think pretty fast," he says. "I can think five or six moves ahead." Speed chess is played with a clock, which helps to rivet the child's attention on the game. During the competitions in Denver, he won a speed chess game against international master Irina Krush. When he plays a slower game with an older player, Josh's attention is more easily diverted.

Chess requires incredible discipline - and Josh is very disciplined for his age, having a dedication that is surprising to find in childhood. He practices two hours a day, playing with his father and brother, 10-year-old Jacob (who is also nationally ranked but whose real interests run toward the arts) as well as others. His dad sets up matches with adult players, so Josh doesn't win all the time - learning from your own mistakes is all part of the process, the adult Wallace says.

Josh writes down the moves of important games in order to study his mistakes. He memorizes opening moves, sometimes plays blindfolded, studies great tournament games, and rubs elbows with the greats.

One of the Wallace family's favorite films is, of course, "Searching for Bobby Fischer," based on the life of whiz kid Josh Waitzkin. The chess coach in the movie is Bruce Pandolfini, played by Ben Kingsley.

"My wife took Josh to a chess camp a couple of years ago," says Wallace, "where he met Pandolfini. He said he wanted to seek out the parents of Josh Wallace because Josh is one of the rare ones - out of the hundreds of students he's seen, Josh was one of the best."

Asked what he likes best about chess, Josh answers in no uncertain terms: "Checkmate." He loves to win, and he knows that he wants to be a chess champion. He reckons he will be 15 before he makes his ultimate goal - grandmaster.

* M.S. Mason's e-mail address is masonm@csps.com

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