Young Chess Standouts Hope to Make Plano Proud in St. Louis Tournaments

Rachael Li playing chess in 2015 // photo courtesy St. Louis Chess Club

For most school-age children, summer vacation entails having fun with friends, relaxing, watching movies and lounging around the lake or pool. But for Plano residents Rachael Li and Atulya Viadya, their summer plans include playing chess, and more specifically, competing in upcoming 10-day tournaments in St. Louis, the current Mecca of American chess.

Nine-year-old Rachael achieved an expert rating last fall at age eight, one year before her older brother, Grandmaster Ruifeng Li, did. She played her first World Open at 4 years old, and is the highest ranked female player in her age group in the U.S. Rachael will represent Plano at the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the St. Louis Chess Club from July 10-20.

“I’m excited [about the tournament] because my brother hasn’t been there,” Rachael said. “I don’t have that many expectations, just try to play my best.”

Recent photo of Rachael Li at the National Open // courtesy Rachael's family
Recent photo of Rachael Li at the National Open // courtesy Rachael’s family

Atulya, 20, the 2018 U.S. Junior Open champion, is a Plano East graduate and junior at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is in the Business Honors program. He is interning this summer at a local oil and gas company and looks forward to the 2019 U.S. Junior Championship.

“This tournament should be fun. I’m playing against people who are probably off school and just preparing, whereas I haven’t really done as much as I probably should have,” Atulya said. “I’m going in as the lowest-rated seed, but I’m hoping that I can just play something where when I look back on it, it’ll be a fond memory as opposed to one where I just get beaten by people younger than me over and over again. I’ll be the oldest player, so that’ll be fun.”

Both remember watching family members play chess, which inspired them to follow suit. “I don’t think anybody introduced me [to the game],” Rachael said. “I just watched my brother and my dad play, and all of a sudden I wanted to [play].”

Atulya Viadya // courtesy Atulya's family
Atulya Viadya // courtesy Atulya’s family

Atulya’s origin story is similar.

“My dad played with me a lot when I was a kid. I’ve been playing for 10 or 11 years, since I was nine or 10,” he said. “He introduced me to a lot of stuff. I still play basketball and chess a lot. I’d say [it was] a bonding experience.”

Both play chess frequently, with Rachael playing as much as three or four times weekly while Atulya plays mostly online while attending UT.

And each player is passionate about the game, but for different reasons.

“I like beating people older than me,” Rachael said.

Atulya, however, likes chess for its more practical applications to life.

“You can apply it to a lot of parts of your life,” he said. “It’s something that you can be prepared for as opposed to other sports where things might catch you off-guard or there might be tricks up people’s sleeves. If you put in the work, you get the results.”

Plano natives Rachael Li and Atulya Viadya share similar goals at the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior Chess Championship and U.S. Junior Chess Championship, respectively – to win as much as they can in the Gateway City and do Plano proud.

U.S. Junior Chess Championships >
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