Stephanie Ballom

The mayor taught her chess

Stephanie Ballom was born in Mansfield, Texas, at the start of USCF's sixth decade. When she was 10, she and her dad were walking through a Barnes and Noble when a chess book that came with a set caught her eye. Her dad bought the book and taught her to play. "Later, I read How to Beat Your Dad at Chess. Shortly after that, I started beating him!"

Stephanie grew up in a very chess-friendly town. "David Harry, the mayor of Mansfield, actually taught chess after school," Stephanie said. "Since I was only in fourth grade and his program was given at the intermediate school, I had to travel there every Wednesday. But the next year I was at the right school. The year after that we won the state championship."

Following that start, Stephanie played in more than 300 USCF events. At 11, she won the Under-15 section of the national Junior Open. In 2003 she scored 6-0 to win the Texas high school girls' title. In 2006, at 17, she came in third at the Susan Polgar National Open Championship for Girls, second in the puzzling-solving contest, and first in the blitz tournament. "My chess heroes were and are Susan Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk," she says.

Stephanie's now a senior at Texas Tech in Lubbock, studying psychology and Russian on a chess-related scholarship. She's on the chess team and last year served as club president. She intends to go on to graduate school to be a neuroscientist, helping to unlock secrets of the human brain.

Naturally, when she thinks of USCF, her mind goes to chess tournaments. But she's not only a player. She's now a tournament director, running a tournament each month with 30-60 scholastic players from surrounding Lubbock schools and 20 adults. Why does a busy college senior with big non-chess plans for the future spend so much of her time running chess tournaments? "Seeing the kids playing chess reminds me of how much fun I had. I want to give them the same experience." Besides tournament play, Chess Life remains important. "It keeps me up to date," she says. "It's been a big part of my life."

Has she met good friends through chess? "Oh, yeah—my closest friends. My best friend, Courtney Jamison, and I grew up in chess together." Her non-chess friends sometimes call her a nerd, but it's a difficult accusation to back up, since Stephanie enjoys a diverse range of hobbies, including tennis, and volunteers to groups like the Women's Service Organization.

Stephanie indulged in some correspondence chess online, but never played through the mail. She plays online at the Internet Chess Club perhaps every other day and still plays in over-the-board tournaments. In fact, she plans to play in the 2009 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships this December in South Padre Island.

She has no personal goals in chess, but plans to keep playing. "Chess has definitely helped me in school—helped in math scores, helped my concentration, taught me to take my time, and to have patience."

Black (Ballom) to play

31 Bh3+ 32. Rxh3 Rxh3 33. Kxh3 Qxf1 +, White resigned.

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