Seventh grade chess player spearheads local tournament

The Voorhees Middle School student has played in over 260 games across the country.

Seventh grader Diana Suralik has competed in over 267 chess games, including the 2017 United States Chess Federation Championship Tournament in Disney World. The Voorhees Middle School student also organized the first Middle School Chess Tournament in South Jersey, which is scheduled for Jan. 6.

Diana Suralik’s chess moves are not confined to 16 pieces on a game board.

In fact, they’ve surpassed her own objective to corner a king, as she aims to enlighten local children about the art of the match.

The seventh grader has acquired ceaseless checkmate skills that have taken her far from the very first chess game she played at home as a 5-year-old.

Kicking off her competitions at Kresson Elementary School, Suralik, a registered player with the United States Chess Federation, has played almost 260 rated games in tournaments across the Northeast, as well as the 2016 and 2017 NFCS Championships.

The Voorhees Middle School student maintains a 1569 on the US Chess Rating system, establishing Suralik with a 3rd Category title. On this system, the top title is a Life Senior Master, which requires a rating level of 2400.

Although she’s competed in countless matches to earn that impressive figure, Surlaik says her growth comes from games lost.

“I’ve played in a lot of tournaments, and I lost a lot, but you learn from mistakes,” Suralik said.

Suralik crossed from causal playing to competitive in fourth grade, leading to weekly chess events at the South Jersey Chess Club, which is now a part of the South Jersey Innovation Center. It was during these regular games that Suralik was exposed to the critical-thinking elements of chess — something she wanted to acquire.

“I think that was my first time being introduced to really good players,” she said. “I got crushed for a long time, but it was good, because if you go easy on people, they never learn anything.”

Throughout her participation in almost 145 events with the U.S. Chess Federation, she is ranked in the 85.1 overall percentile. For the overall female ranking, she is in the 95.7 percentile, ranking 439 out of 9,978.

In the 2016 championship, which was held in Nashville, Suralik won a trophy for the 800–999 section. At the 2017 event this past December in Disney World, she won four games, including one particular match where she clinched a 2,005 pre-rating.

Although Suralik’s prowess has played across the country, she’s very dedicated to the local chess community, including the VMS Chess Club, which she joined in sixth grade.

“(She was) dominate from the beginning — a fantastic player,” said Jeff Lanzilotta, a seventh-grade science teacher at VMS and the school’s chess club advisor. “She moves ahead of time — three, four, five moves ahead, and then she can actually recite moves that you’ve done and that she’s done from, maybe, 10 previous moves.”

Lanzilotta says he has yet to beat Suralik in a match.

Beyond the chess boards of VMS, she’s taught young girls the strategic game. In November, Suralik served as an instructor at the one-day NJ All-Girls Chess Camp in Princeton. Her teachings ranged from rudimentary rules to checkmate tactics.

“She’s definitely been a motivator for other students to play chess more and to get more involved in the chess community,” Lanzilotta said. “It just shows you how much of a motivated kid she is.”

Toward the end of the lesson, Suralik competed in a simultaneous exhibition against the 13 girls, meaning she played each one of them in separate games at the same time.

“It was a really great experience. I really liked working with all of them,” she said.

Suralik’s next chess move will not require assistance from a pawn.

In October, she started spearheading the first Middle School Chess Tournament in South Jersey. After inviting several schools from across the region, her idea is coming to fruition, as on Saturday, Jan. 6, the event was scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Innovation Center, located at 2003 Lincoln Drive West, Suite A, Marlton.

“Chess has been a great experience and a really positive education experience, and it would just be nice to share that with people,” Suralik said. “I can’t imagine not being interested in chess. It’s just intellectually engaging, and you just focus on it and you can’t think about anything else.”