FREMONT — Chess may be a male-dominated game, but earlier this month a female-dominant team from Weibel Elementary School achieved what was quite possibly a first: It took home a top prize from this year's National Elementary School Chess Championships.
The students — Alisha Chawla, Joanna Liu and Serafina Show, all 8 years old, along with teammate Michael Wang — tied with another team for first place in the K-3 division at nationals, held in Atlanta. The Weibel team also placed third in the K-6 overall championship.
Another Fremont school, Mission San Jose Elementary, which was last year's overall champion, placed second in the K-1 division, fourth in K-3, third in K-5 and ninth in the K-6 overall championship. It was the only team in the nation to have Top 10 placements in all four divisions, Coach Joe Lonsdale said.
Alan Kirshner, who has coached the Weibel team the past 21 years, hopes this year's showing by the K-3 team will encourage more girls to play chess.
In addition to Alisha, Joanna and Serafina, the K-3 team's alternate, Desiree Ho, was a girl.
"It's hard to find girls in any tournament, but to find four girls, all strong, (on a) team, it's very rare," said Christy Lin, Serafina's mother.
Until two years ago when a coach told Lin her daughter showed promise, Serafina's parents had not thought about having her play chess competitively. Most of Serafina's female friends were in music or dance classes.
"I talked to my husband. I said, 'She has the talent. Why are we stopping it? Let's let her try,' " Lin said. "We shouldn't stop girls from doing things that boys can do. This society (stereotypes) what girls can do. But it's the 21st century."
While Serafina thinks it's "cool" that a female-dominant team won, for the second-grader, it's even cooler that because of chess tournaments, "I get to travel a lot."
If anyone would know about traveling, it would be Serafina's teammate, Alisha. She has competed for Team USA twice in the World Youth Chess Championships — in Vietnam in 2008 and in Turkey in 2009.
Meanwhile, Joanna will travel to Greece in November for this year's world championships. In addition to helping lead her team to a first-place finish in Atlanta this month, she was crowned champion when she went undefeated in seven games in the 8-and-younger section of this year's Girls Nationals.
Asked how she felt about her success in a male-dominated field, she said, "I like it, of course." But she's used to going up against the opposite gender. After all, she often plays against her father.
"Most of the time, I beat him," Joanna said.
"I play against tough players. Sometimes I lose, but I (review) what they did. I learn, and then I can beat them next time," she said.
Joan DuBois, director of communications for the United States Chess Federation, said only 4 percent of its members are female.
"When the girls are younger, we attract a lot more. As they grow older, they get involved in different things. We are trying to get them back in high school," she said, adding that the federation is hosting a new Girls Junior Championship in Southern California this summer.
More than 2,000 students from more than 40 states competed in this year's National Elementary School Chess Championships.
Members of Weibel's K-6 team were Daniel Ho, Nikhil Jaha, Kevin Moy, Justin Wang, Brett Beardsley and Sharvil Kekre.
Team members of Mission San Jose Elementary's K-1 section were Mihir Bhuptani, John Chan, Soorya Kuppam and Luke Zhao. Competing in the K-3 section were Ojas Arun, Anjan Das, Drake Lin, Amit Sant and Kevin Zhu. Armaan Kalyanpur, Alvin Kong, Erik Wong and Alex Yin competed in the K-5 section, while Sayan Das, Evan Wong, Emily and Eric Zhu competed in the K-6 championships.
Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010.