He's nobody's pawn in the world of chess

By Jeff Vorva

On Mondays, Mikhail Korenman can usually be found in Orland Park teaching chess at the Anatoly Karpov International School of Chess in the village's Cultural Center.

Other days of the week, he can be found in schools throughout the Chicago area, including Southwest Christian Academy in Oak Lawn and the Bridgeview Academy. He visits about 350 chess players a week.

Many students and their parents likely know the Russian born educator as a big guy with a thick accent who is pretty darn good at his craft and teaching this difficult craft to kids.

But what they may not know about him is that for years he has been a major force in the chess world. Grandmaster Susan Polgar once wrote in 2007: "Mikhail Korenman is one of the most important individuals in U.S. Chess."

She went on to say that Korenman "has organized many spectacular events which greatly benefit our sport. Most important of all, he has done all of these things without ever becoming a 'chess politician.' He is a man of strong ethics, integrity, honesty and he loves chess! He works hard for our beloved game."

He's also man who has rubbed elbows with history and greatness, including former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and Karpov, a seven-time World Champion. Korenman brought Karpov to an international tournament in Oak Brook last year and to Orland Park to check out the school he is named for.

Korenman, a Willowbrook resident, also brought a tournament to Orland Park in 2011 that featured then-8-year-old Awonder Liang, who was fresh off winning a World Championship in Brazil, challenging adult competition.

The next monthly local tournament will be held Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Cultural Center and will feature young players from the area of various skill levels. Korenman says that Orland Park's Anthony Malysz is a player to watch after finishing second in a national tournament last year.

Korenman said that he has taught players from rich and poor backgrounds. In this competition, backgrounds do not matter. Anyone can play.

"It's what's in your head," he said. "It's a matter of how much time do you want to spend at chess. Some play casually with friends. Some spend more time on their game - especially those who go to the tournaments. A big thing is parent support. The kids who are able to travel do very well."

He said that it doesn't matter what level a student is at, the game helps kids learn to think and it forces them to use many skills.

"It helps with writing because they have to write down all the moves," he said. "It teaches you to pay attention. It teaches patience. It's a great educational tool. You don't have to have a computer to play."

But technology is having an impact on a game that was invented 1,500 years ago. Korenman said he embraces the technology to a point.

"Computers definitely help but I don't like playing against computers and I don't want kids to play against computers," he said. "They can play against others online at home. Computers are good teaching tools and there is software you can run to analyze your game. That's big for high school kids. It's great to play on iPods and iPads but I prefer they play face-to-face."

The next international tournament he will organize will be in late March in Naperville but details are not finalized. He said more than 20 families from Russia will attend and compete and he is working on bringing top chess players from other countries as well.