Throughout its 39 year history, there have been many great leaders who organized the Calchess Scholastic State Championships. Each of them has led with unique talents and in different circumstances. Tonight I present to you my brief interview with one of the best chess promoters in the history of California chess, Salman Azhar.
(For ease of reading, Salman’s answers to my questions are in bold)
When did you first learn how to move the chess pieces?
I first learned to move the pieces when I was four. My father and brother taught me how to play chess.
Why did you decide to get your boys involved in chess?
My oldest son started to learn chess Weibel and at a class taught by you. He was inspired by you and his other teachers and joined Weibel Chess team and went on to win many state championships for himself and help Weibel keep its winning streak alive in 2004.
Congratulations on Aamir(Salman’s oldest son) being recently accepted to Duke, Berkeley, and other schools. Do you feel chess has helped him in his scholastic career?
Chess has definitely helped him develop his analytic skills and logical thinking. He lost interest in competitive chess some time ago because he was targeted by some parents and coaches due to local chess politics.
Who first convinced you to start organizing tournaments?
Dr. Alan Kirshner hand picked me to run tournaments and was instrumental in my success. I owe much of what I have learned about organizing tournaments to Dr. Kirshner.
Why do you think Alan chose you?
I believe he said I was a, “combination of someone who is thorough and also who can interact with the people in a professional way.” I am honored to be his protege.
This will be your seventh consecutive year organizing the Calchess Scholastic State Championships . What have you learned from running this tournament?
<smiling> As Richard Shorman said, “You will know the true nature of people.” I have learned a lot about human psychology and behavior and also developed the courage to do the right thing regardless of personal gain, external threats, financial temptations, and other things that cause many good people to lose your integrity.
Your name has become synonymous with quality tournaments. How has that changed your life?
There are many excellent organizers all over the world and I have a lot to learn. However, I do enjoy people coming up to me in restaurants, grocery stores, business meetings, and other places to express their appreciations. It helps me sleep better at night that I have given something back to the community that has given me so much.
One of your detractors was an individual who used to be your mentor and most vocal supporter. Why do you think that is?
I cannot speculate on someone else’s intentions but I have a lot of respect for him and have learned from him. I hope some day we overcome local adult politics and realize that scholastic chess is about children.
What is your advice to parents who have children who are currently attending Weibel Elementary School?
I don’t like to advise people who don’t ask for advice but I have always welcomed Weibel players and their parents at my tournaments. They should rise above the local chess politics and do what is best for their child(ren).
Why have you decided to rename the Calchess Scholastic State Championships the Calchess Super States?
This is patterned after National Super States indicating that it is a championship sections encompassing all grade levels. Many other states have separate elementary, junior high, and high school champions or Super States where all sections are in the same tournament.
Why do you think that you have become the most popular tournament organizer in the history of California chess?
You are a great danger to my desire to be humble, aren’t you? I see many shortcomings in every tournament I run and perhaps recognize them with humility so that I can improve the next time. This pholosophy has made me get better.
I am honored to be respected by this community and feel that honor is largely due to heeding Dr. Richard Feynman’s advise: “So I have just one wish for you – the good luck to be somewhere where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on, to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.”
What is the funniest moment you have ever experienced while running a chess tournament?
Most of them center around children trying to get out of touch move rule but the funniest was a child whose excuse was that he accidentally picked up the King to dig his nose.
What advice would you give to someone who plans on running their first large chess tournament?
Run small tournaments first and have a person who has run large tournaments watch your back when you run your first one. That his how my mentor and friend, Dr. Alan Kirshner, taught me.
You are also heavily involved in the High-tech industry? How do you think technology will change scholastic chess tournaments? What will a chess tournament look like in 20 years?
Yes, I am. I think computer analysis has already influenced the development of players. I think it is changing interactive teaching as well. Coaches like you are using iPads in their class. All this will help players get stronger much faster. However, I am concerned about taking the fun out of the experience of learning.
I also think we will also see more online play but nothing can replace the social aspect of coming together physically for a tournament or a class.
Chris Torres is a nationally renowned scholastic chess coach working in both Bakersfield and the San Francisco Bay Area. His classes have attracted players of strengths ranging from rank beginners to world champions. A chess professional since 1998, Chris is widely recognized as one of the main driving forces behind the explosion in popularity and sudden rise in quality of scholastic chess in California. Currently, Chris Torres has the ranking of candidate master and serves as the President of the Torres Chess and Music Academy. Mr. Torres’ hobbies include playing classical guitar and getting his students to appear on the national top 100 chess rating lists.
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