Friday, August 16, 2013

iana Mirza's dad has nurtured her talent but many of our gifted children need more support

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Queen of the castle: Diana Mirza and her father Gabriel pictured at home in Limerick

Like many 13-year-olds Diana Mirza is a big Rihanna fan. The Limerick schoolgirl is also a devotee of top teen fiction writer Jacqueline Wilson and has been engrossed in her hit Queenie.

So far, so standard but Diana's third idol is a little unusual. "Bobby Fischer," she says proudly, "he's my absolute favourite."
There aren't many teenage girls who could tell you the name of the deceased American chess grandmaster (let alone list him as a hero) but Diana Mirza isn't just any teenager.
The pretty, quietly spoken girl has just been crowned Irish Women's Chess Champion, is the only Irish chess player to win silver and bronze medals at the European Union Youth Chess Championships and, when she entered the World Youth Chess Championships last year, she was ranked 36th in the world.
Today, she is competing with the Irish Chess Union's national team against the cream of young chess talent from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the Glorney Cup in Cardiff.
Her father, Gabriel Mirza (47), knew he had a prodigy on his hands when his daughter picked up the complicated board game at the tender age of five and, spurred on by his promise of a one-off €100 cash prize, beat him in a game aged just 11.
The Romanian-born chess coach, who runs a chess club at Limerick's St Michael's sports club, now tries to support his daughter's talent by bringing her to tournaments where she can improve by competing against more demanding opposition.
But perhaps the biggest challenge Diana faces is the lack of support – financial or otherwise – for young talent in the chess world.
"In 2011 I almost didn't go to the World Youth Chess Championship in Brazil because it was so expensive," she explains.
"My school helped me raise some money but this year I have the same problem with going to the EU Youth Championships in Austria in a few weeks. I think this year I could win gold but flights and accommodation are expensive and I need funding."
While typically attending a tournament can run to around €1,000 a pop – and Diana tries to enter more than 20 a year – chess prize money is meagre.
Today's Glorney Cup is for a trophy and title only while even the larger events on the Irish circuit only run to a top prize of a few hundred euro.
This hopeful future grandmaster's only means of honing her skills is competing against her eight-year-old brother, reading books and practising two hours daily on the laptop she bought with her winnings.
Unfortunately as a child prodigy or gifted child, Diana is far from alone in lacking support to hone her skill.
While America, Russia, China and other densely populated countries can afford to set up centres of excellence for their skilled youngsters, Ireland lags behind.

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