In every way, Lillian Poliquin is your typical seven-year-old first grader: she has tons of energy, loves to hug her daddy but is kind of shy when being interviewed.
But Lillian isn’t one to be trifled with when it comes to playing chess: she’s deadly serious.
As of March 1 she ranks 78th nationally for girls age 7 and under. Lillian has been playing in United States Chess Federation-sanctioned tournaments since she was 5. So far, she’s taken part in 15 USCF contests.
Lillian learned the ancient game from her father, Dover attorney Ron Poliquin, and her older brother, Ronin. Poliquin teaches a chess class made up of about a dozen students at Holy Cross Elementary School, which includes Lillian and Ronin.
“When she was five, she started bugging me about going to chess tournaments,” Poliquin said. “I thought it was just because she wanted to be with us.”
But Lillian quickly took an interest in the game and soon began playing on her own.
Poliquin describes chess as a mental competition between two players.
“It’s like a puzzle, and I think that’s why she likes it,” he said. “The thing that makes it unique is that each player is even in the beginning. You can’t blame anyone else if you lose. It’s all you, all by yourself.”
For her interview, Lillian came bouncing into the room on a Friday afternoon, displaying boundless Tigger-like liveliness. She quickly took up a position on her father’s lap, sneaking sips of his soda between questions.
“Lillian wasn’t very good when she first started, but she picked things up,” Poliquin said. “She’s not as competitive as her brother, and she’s a little more patient.”
And while Lillian likes to win, she doesn’t get upset when she’s forced to concede.
“She doesn’t take things too hard,” her father said. “If she loses three out of five games, it’s not that big of a deal.”
Asked if she thinks of herself as being smart, Lillian smiles and answers matter-of-factly, “Yes.”
Lillian’s next contest will be at the USCF Supernational tournament in Nashville.
“We’re going to get to skip school!” she said excitedly.
But only for one day, her father reminded her. The three-day tournament, May 12-14, will give Lillian the chance to learn from other students from her own level up to high school.
“It’s the biggest such tournament in the world,” Poliquin said.
Why do you like chess?
Because it’s fun and I like beating boys.
So you like to win?
I really want to win. I like getting trophies. I have four of them.
What’s your favorite chess piece?
I like the queen because she can move anywhere.