Canada's chess king is just 16

Posted: 10/12/2004
Youngest member of national team

Tomorrow, he's off to Chess Olympiad



Mark Bluvshtein has been delivering that decisive blow to opponents just like a master.

Funny thing now he is one. The youngest person in Canadian history to earn the exalted title of Grand Master, he's off to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca tomorrow as part of Canada's six-person national squad at the 36th annual Chess Olympiad. The 17-day championship pulls together many of the top players around the globe, with age not a factor.

Only 16, the quiet, easy-going Bluvshtein has, amid little fanfare at Toronto's Newtonbrook Secondary, become a teenage star in the game of chess.

"Two years ago I did well in Slovenia, but the team didn't," he recalled. "This time, I'm hopeful of doing even better."

Patrick McDonald, youth co-ordinator of the Chess Federation of Canada, said Bluvshtein's climb has been nothing short of remarkable.

"He's the top chess player in Canada right now," McDonald said. "Not only do I expect very good results from him at the Olympiad, there's no telling how much better he will get in a few years, and let's not forget that he's only a teenager."

World Chess Federation champs like Vladimir Kramnik and Gary Kasparov, both Russians, need not worry just yet, according to Bluvshtein, who was born in Yaroslavl, 200 kilometres north of Moscow.

"I still have a lot to learn, but I'm getting better," he said, cautiously choosing his words. "For me, chess is a daily thing. I play after school on the Internet and choose my opponents in different parts of the world. The goal is to be a Canadian champ, then go after a world title."

A Grade 11 student with grades in the mid-70s, Bluvshtein used to find time for things like playing on the school's champion junior soccer team. Hoping to study sciences at the University of Toronto, he's committed totally to chess now and has given some thought to a pro career.

"Chess is more than a hobby, but in reality, it's not a profession," said Bluvshtein, who picked up a $7,000 cheque last month from the Chess'n Math Association, a cash prize for reaching Grand Master status.

Fluent in Russian and Hebrew, he was only 11 when he won $700 in a small tournament. Since then, he says, his accumulated earnings have grown to almost $20,000. Yet the quietly self-confident young man has "an incredible amount of humility, very low-key and well-mannered," said Newtonbrook principal Jim Spyropoulos.

Bluvshtein came to Canada with his family in 1999, after six years in Israel. "It's a good life in Canada, there's lots to do and much to accomplish, and I get to travel a lot," he said. "I'm a Russian kid living in a predominantly Russian neighbourhood. It feels like home, and it is home."