Madeline DeGraw was a Chess Apprentice Under Grandmaster Ben Finegold


Credit to Anna Lindquist

By Anna Lindquist

Madeline DeGraw sits, staring at the chess board. She hears the clack as her opponent hits the clock. Madeline studies his move and calculates what she wants to do next. After moving her piece she looks up into the silent crowd and meets the eyes of the Grandmaster, the one she had been learning from since she was around eight years old, Madeline smiles nervously and focuses back on the game in front of her.

Madeline had been going to the St. Louis Chess Center to watch and participate in chess tournaments for awhile. A Grandmaster, Ben Finegold, had approached her and a group of about seven other kids and asked if they would like to join. Madeline said yes and started going every Sunday to learn from Finegold. By watching the player’s: moves, the reason behind the moves or other chess tactics, like opening moves.

“I don’t know how to describe how it’s helped me improve,” Madeline said. “Everything I know is from there [the chess center].”

Madeline had started playing chess when she was young. Being introduced to chess by her dad, Charles DeGraw, made it all the more special for her and has also helped her in other aspects of her life.

“I think she’s able to think ahead in life in general,” Charles said. “Just like in chess, you are trying to think ahead. You are trying to anticipate what’s going to happen and have a plan for what you want to do. If situation A occurs, what are you going to do. If situation B occurs, what are you going to do. Situation C etcetera. So, you always have to have a plan and then have contingencies. I find that Madeline does the same thing, she always knows what she is going to do and I think chess helped with that, especially her apprenticeship.”

Madeline would often go to chess tournaments, which Finegold would attend. The majority of her tournaments were unranked, which meant she could go against another unranked player who was a lot older than her.

“I was once put against a 17 year old in one of my first tournaments, which really psyched me out for my age because he was so old,” Madeline said. “I just remember shaking. I don’t know why I was so scared of him at the time, but I ended up winning that match. It really taught me a valuable lesson that when it comes to chess, that age doesn’t matter. It’s really how well you play the game. I went out of the tournament that day carrying that with me.”

Though Madeline had to stop being a chess apprentice a few years later, she still plays chess often and is the Vice-President of the Chess Club.

“I’m one of the only one’s there with any tournament experience or any other formal training other than somebody’s parents teaching them how to play and just playing casual games,” Madeline said. “I’ve been teaching some kids how to play better, so I guess people just trusted my expertise.”

Madeline wasn’t the only one who had been introduced to chess and had become a chess apprentice. Her twin sister, Hannah DeGraw, also studied under Finegold, but hadn’t been playing as often due to a conflicting schedule.

“Most of the time together we would advance [at chess tournaments],” Hannah said. “Sometimes, it would just be her advancing or it would just be me. It was never necessarily that we were better than one another when one of us would advance or the other wouldn’t. It would be more that the person I was against would make a dumb mistake or vise versa. Now, even though I don’t have a lot of time to be a part of Chess Club, I still enjoy the game and playing with my sister.”