Interview: WCM Claudia Muñoz on Her Chess Journey So Far

The beauty of the Internet is that it allows you to meet people that would otherwise never cross your daily path (especially, if, like me, you spend a lot of time indoors). During the FIDE World Championship Match last month, I was glued to social media like everyone else and while having conversations with various strangers on Twitter, I came across a cherubic American teenager doing her own bit to promote chess across the world.

Meet Claudia Muñoz, a 16-year-old Woman Candidate Master who has represented both Mexico and the USA and will be participating in the World Youth Chess Championships 2013 starting next week in Al Ain, UAE. Below is an email interview she so graciously accepted to do.

WCM Claudia Muñoz
WCM Claudia Muñoz

How were you introduced to chess and when did you start playing the game competitively?

I learned how to play chess when I was 6 years old in Mexico. I was born in the United States from parents with dual American and Mexican citizenship but when I was 6 years old, we moved to Mexico as my parents opened a support company for foreign manufacturers in that country.

I played in the Mexican scholastic system where I won almost every gold medal there was to win between 2005-2009. In the summers I would play in the United States while on vacation. In January 2010, I returned to the United States to play competitively until the present day. I am now 16 years old.

How many tournaments have you won?

I have won numerous tournaments in both Mexico and the United States. In Mexico I was National Champion in the U12 Girls. In the United States I was champion of the “2008 Susan Polgar National Championship” undefeated.

Claudia flanked by her mother (left) and Susan Polgar (right)
Claudia flanked by her mother (left) and Susan Polgar (right)

In 2013, I was champion of the “All Girls National Championship” undefeated, this tournament was sponsored by the Kasparov Foundation. I was also North American Youth Champion in 2007 where the United States, Mexico and Canada faced each other. I won this tournament undefeated as well as the FIDE title of Woman Candidate Master. I was 9 years old.

Claudia being awarded her trophy by Garry Kasparov
Claudia being awarded her trophy by Garry Kasparov

 What are your FIDE and USCF ratings?

My rating in the United States is 2048 and my FIDE rating is 1781. However, now that I am in the TOP of my category in the United States, I will begin to focus on FIDE rated tournaments as 90% of my tournament play is for national rating.

At age 15, Claudia crossed the 2000 USCF rating and was ranked 8th in the US
At age 15, Claudia crossed the 2000 USCF rating and was ranked 8th in the US

What are your chess goals?

I have several short, medium and long term goals but in a nutshell:

Reach 2300 in rating by my 18th birthday. Earn an invitation to the United States Closed Championship in St. Louis. Qualify for the Olympiad. All in the next two years.

How are you preparing for the World Youth Chess Championship in Al Ain, UAE, next month? Do you have a personal chess coach? Who? How many hours do you dedicate to chess every day/week? What’s your training schedule like?

I do have a personal chess coach. Who is he? Top Secret, like Magnus did. My chess training is 2.5 hours per day, 4 days a week. This is over the board training. On Fridays, I play chess with children from around the world for two hours on chesskid.com, a chess site with 150,000 members that I am an ambassador of. Those two hours that I play are also part of my chess activities. So, I would say I train for about 13 hours per week.

Concerning preparation for the WYCC. We do not look at it that way. We train for chess and not a specific tournament. All the tournaments I play are strong and in each tournament there are people from all over the world as the United States is a melting pot from every nation.

How do you balance studies with chess?

It is more like how do I balance my chess with school as school is the most important thing besides God and my family. School is first and my tournament play rotates around my education. I have always been tops in my class since first grade.

Is the WYCC the first tournament you will be participating in outside of North America?

No. I have represented the United States of America in many tournaments since I was 9 years old: the Pan American Youth Championship in Argentina (2008), Colombia (2011) and Peru (2012); the 2010 World Youth Chess Championship in Greece. So no, I am not new at this. I have proudly represented my country numerous times.

What advice would you give to other players like you who are preparing for the WYCC?

Do not be scared. Do not fear the strong chess countries, on the contrary, look to play them. Do not play for draws, respect the tournament and give everything you have. Fear and nerves get in the way of chess preparation so overcoming these two are conducive to great chess.

What is it about chess that appeals to you?

Travelling and defeating boys in chess.

Playing at a tournament
Playing at a tournament

What role do your parents/family play in your chess career?

When it comes to chess they are members of my chess team. My father is in charge of my chess calendar, planning, marketing and public relations that keep the finances coming into the team. My mother is in charge of transportation and logistics – my official chaperone. So without them, my chess success would not be what it is.

Claudia's parents
Claudia’s parents

I was not asked but I would like to include that what makes our chess project different from other chess players is our strong spiritual foundation in God as well as the marketing and public relations that I conduct on social media.

My bilingual chess website www.claudiamunoz.com has over 1.6 million hits in its 4th year. I have 5,000 followers on Facebook and 1,500 followers on Twitter. There is no other 16-year old female chess player who has the social media presence that I have. I am also an Admin for CHESS CLUB LIVE, which has over 230,000 followers on Facebook.

All of this presence on social media is to applaud and recognise chess talents that are not recognised outside of their towns. Also, we reach out to people that do not play or follow chess. When I share my thoughts on social media, they do get heard as was evident during the World Chess Championship as several of my tweets were posted on websites and newspapers along with those of GM Susan Polgar, GM Alexandra Kostenuik and other well know Grand Masters.

My social media presence is not focused on self but on others. This is what makes me a different type of chess player without being an International Master or Grand Master, simply a 16-year old Woman Candidate Master.

Thank you for taking time out for this interview and good luck with your chess career!

(Photo credits: Courtesy)