Karina is first Northern Ireland woman to play at World Chess Olympics
A Co Antrim teenager is poised to break sporting records when she represents Ireland in the World Chess Olympics in Turkey next month.
Karina Kruk from Carrickfergus will be the first woman from Northern Ireland to play the game at international level.
The 18-year-old, who grew up in Poland, said she is “ecstatic” about being selected for the Irish women’s team heading to Istanbul. She will be pitted against top players from across the globe including chess grand masters more than three times her age.
Karina told the Belfast Telegraph: “I still can’t believe I’ve been picked. This is the biggest chess competition in the world.
“It will be an amazing experience just being there and playing beside some of the biggest names in the game. I’ve never been to Turkey before and I’m very excited about that too.”
With no Northern Ireland sportspeople on Team GB — and just a handful on the Irish team — for the London Olympics which open on Friday, Karina is determined to win for her country at the Chess Olympiad.
The teenager, whose mother is from Carrickfergus and her father from Poland, will play on the five-strong Irish women’s team. A total of 166 countries are taking part in the two-week competition.
Karina, the current Ireland under-19 chess champion, hopes her success will encourage more local children and teenagers to play chess.
“When I returned to Northern Ireland, I was really shocked at how few young people, particularly girls, play chess here compared to Poland,” she said.
“I grew up in Gdansk and there was a chess club in my school. During the holidays, there were summer camps by the Baltic Sea where — in between chess lessons – you’d sunbathe and swim.”
Karina began playing chess when she was 12 year sold: “That was very late for Poland. Children usually start at four.
“Some girls and boys playing in competitions are so small they can’t even reach the tables. Their parents bring booster seats for them,” she said.
“Most of my school friends in Gdansk played chess but here none of them do. At competitions I’m often both the youngest player and the only girl there.”
Karina said chess is wrongly viewed in Northern Ireland as being a game for “oddball men”.
She added: “This stereotype is totally unfair but it can be an advantage to me because some men think 'Oh it's only a young girl’. They don’t take me seriously as an opponent and so end up losing.”
Karina said the authorities should do more to encourage children to play chess in Northern Ireland: “Young people here are missing out on a great game.
“There should be an officially funded programme to bring chess into our communities. The government in Poland and other European countries do this. A small amount of money makes a huge difference.”
The young woman said chess shouldn’t be an elitist sport.
“In Europe, it’s a very popular game. People play in parks, cafes and other public places,” she added. “There’s official funding for outdoor chess festivals where anyone can come along and challenge you to a game.
“This would be something dynamic and different for Northern Ireland and a new way of bringing together people from different communities.
“Beginners are always surprised at how much fun chess is. It’s not just mentally challenging. You learn so much about human nature from your opponent and their moves.”
The five top-rated teams for next month’s event in Istanbul are Russia, France, the Ukraine, China and Hungary.