Chess whiz at the tender age of 9

Posted: 1/14/2005
By: Stephen Baxter Daily Journal Staff

When Daniel Naroditsky sits down at a chess board, it’s easy to underestimate him.

At chess tournaments, the Foster City 9-year-old sits on a booster seat, gauging all possibilities while silently dispatching opponents three times his age.

After a regional tournament win this fall in Reno, Nev. that net him $1,200, he is ranked first in his age group in Northern California, and number one among the nation’s third-graders.

“They see me and they think I don’t know how to play,” Naroditsky said Tuesday. After a few careless moves, “they play seriously — and it’s too late.”

Naroditsky’s father, Vladimir, is a Ukrainian immigrant who taught him to play about 18 months ago. Daniel, or “Danya” as his parents call him, soon started beating him.

“I noticed I had to think hard to play with him,” his father said. A few months later he entered Daniel in a tournament in Burlingame, where he lost his first match against a 13-year-old girl.

“I was very scared,” he said. “I thought I’d never get first.”

Then he competed in a Santa Clara tournament and won five consecutive rounds to take the top prize.

Naroditsky attends Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School and plays with adults at the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club in San Francisco.

In a San Francisco tournament, he once sat down for a game with a rabbi. After Naroditsky soundly defeated him, the rabbi swished the pieces off the board and stormed off.

“That was very good,” he said with a smile.

Vladimir Naroditsky and his 13-year-old son Alan still occasionally beat Daniel, but he is resolute in his goal to become an elite chess player.

“I want to be a grand master at 14,” he said.

There are about 300 grand masters in the world, and it can take a lifetime of savvy moves to achieve it. The youngest was the 13-year-old Norwegian Magnus Carlson.

Naroditsky’s parents travel with him to tournaments nearly every weekend, and he has competed in Orlando, Fla., Pittsburgh, Penn. and around California. The $1,200 Reno prize did not excite him as much as the 19 medals and trophies he has collected. At 4 feet 5 inches and 50 pounds, some of the trophies are bigger than he is.

Traveling to tournaments is not always easy or cheap. His father said he spent more than $4,000 on entry fees, hotel rooms and restaurants on the last trip to Florida, but said traveling is the only way to improve his son’s ranking.

And it’s not all trophies and smiles. His father said tears have fallen down his son’s face after a few losses.

“I get upset sometimes,” he said.

Writing and recess are his main pursuits in school and he said most of his classmates aren’t familiar with his game. At home he studies chess strategies and trivia, and goes to chess club practices three nights a week.

On Tuesday, his eyes brightened as he rattled off the names of chess champions from the 19th century. He memorizes the years of chess greats’ births and deaths, and one of his two private instructors calls him with questions on famous players’ stats.

Naroditsky’s next move will be a 3,000-player tournament in San Jose in March and the U.S. Chess Federation Supernationals in Nashville, Tenn., in April.

“I have to practice very much,” he said.

Stephen Baxter can be reached by e-mail at or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 109. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor: