Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Noah Pang, freshman, started playing chess at age 5 and stopped at about age 12. He still managed to win nationals for the first 3 years of grade school, competed in international tournaments, and won many other accolades.
He lists his chess accomplishments as if he’s had to run through this list many, many times.
“I represented the U.S. in internationals twice, once at the Royal Championships in Spain, and once at the Pan-American when I was in sixth grade. In ages 8-12 I was in the top 3 highest rated [chess players] in the country for my age. And when I turned 12—I haven’t improved too much since then,” Pang said.
His current rating is 2120, which falls into the expert category. Above that, at 2200, lies Master, and at 2400, the elusive Senior Master.
“I’m sort of a failed prodigy in that way…the rating when I was 12 was 2040.”
Clearly his skill hasn’t decreased at all, but Pang insists that the improvement is “an almost negligible amount.” Pang continued to play some chess during high school, though not as frequently.
“It just would’ve taken more work, more energy, and I would have to devote more time to it. I just really didn’t put enough into it. So I didn’t stop playing, but I didn’t study enough, I didn’t play enough.”
When questioned about continuing to play chess—perhaps recreationally—Pang had a definite answer. “For me, playing chess means I would be playing competitively in chess tournaments.” Like during the summer before his senior year, when he went to Budapest to compete in international tournaments just “for the hell of it.” “ I was bored and needed something to do with my summer,” he explained.
Pang understands chess in both an intimate and intuitive way. “[Chess] is something in-between science and an art. It’s like a math-type thing, you can just learn—but then it’s still a game, so it’s like a competitive sport in that way. You still have to have an opponent and there’s gamesmanship involved,” he says. “I don’t know. I’ve been doing it for so long it’s like a part of me.”