Freshman Elina Groberman started playing chess at age six in her native Moldova, which was then part of the Soviet Union.
Eleven years later, Moldova is an independent republic, her hometown of Kishinev has been renamed Chisenau, and at age 17 Ms. Groberman is the reigning US women's chess co-champion.
After her family moved to the United States in 1995 and settled in Brooklyn when she was 12, Ms. Groberman started taking lessons from acclaimed Ukranian coach Mikhail Trosman and playing in tournaments virtually every weekend. "My parents thought that chess would be good for my overall development," said Ms. Groberman, who is the only competitive player in her family.
The dedication and hard work paid off.
Ms. Groberman, who plans to major in economics or computer science, took time out from her MIT studies to tie for first place with Camilla Baginskaite of Lithuania in the women's tournament at the US Chess Championships in Seattle September 25-October 6, winning $7,250. In addition, Ms. Groberman received a $400 prize for her brilliant play in defeating fellow Brooklynite Olga Segalchik in the eighth round.
Before play began, Ms. Groberman was pessimistic about her chances in the round-robin tournament. In 1999 she had finished ninth and she did not think she was properly prepared to compete against players ranked as highly as the nine opponents she would face.
"As with any sport, one has to stay in shape, and that comes from practice and study," she said. "I did not study for the month prior to the event. So I was ready for the worst. And each win just made me a bit less pessimistic as the possibility of placing last diminished.
"Now people ask how I can explain my result. I can't, except that I was very relaxed and had cooperation from my opponents."
As a result of her success in Seattle, Ms. Groberman has been invited to join the US team in a match against China, to play in the next US Women's Championship, and to represent the United States in the Women's World Chess Championship.
"My participation in these events will depend upon my ability to keep up with the work I will be missing in school since the tournaments will be held during school session," said Ms. Groberman, a graduate of Peter Stuyvesant High School.
She won three consecutive New York State women's championships from 1996-98. She tied for first place in the girls-under-18 Pan-American championship in Brazil in 1998 and played in the World Junior Chess Championships in France in 1997 and in Spain in 1998 and 1999.
As a high school freshman, she was a member of the1997 New York City champion chess team at Edward R. Murrow High School. She transferred to Stuyvesant as a sophomore and was the No. 1 player on its team, which has won 98 city and national championships, 99 state titles, and has been the Pan-American scholastic champion 99 times.
While in Cambridge, she plays speed chess in Harvard Square and friendly matches with MIT freshman Tamer Karetekin. She expects to play in the Boston University Open next month and other local tournaments.
As talented as she is, chess is only an avocation for Ms. Groberman.
"My ambitions are very simple -- to play as well as I can and enjoy as much as I can," she said. "Other than that, it depends on how things go. All I know is that I don't want to become a professional chess player. For me, college and education come first."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 25, 2000.