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A Multi-Ethnic Mix of Prodigies

IN terms of both geography and ethnic background, America's young chess stars present as varied and diverse a mix as one can imagine. Many were born in Eastern Europe or have family origins in the Soviet Union or other countries where chess is a national pastime.

Ilya Gurevich, 17, who emigrated to the US with his family from Kiev when he was 8, has dominated his age group since 1983 and has been a force in adult chess as well for several years now. Alex Sidelnikov, a more recent emigr'e from the USSR, is the top-rated 13-year-old. Morgan Pehme, 10, who burst upon the scene as a kindergartner five years ago, is a native New Yorker with family roots in Estonia. And Susan Urminska of Hawaii, the top-rated girl under 12, is of Czech descent.

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Children of Asian extraction are also prominent, including John Viloria, 10, of Yonkers, NY, whose parents emigrated from the Philippines in the '70s; ex-national primary and elementary champion Alex Chang, whose family is from Taiwan; and former national primary winner Oliver Tai, whose parents are from Hong Kong.

K.K. Karanja, another double national winner as a youngster and now the top-rated 15-year-old, has family roots in Kenya. And there are many other outstanding youngsters whose families have lived in the US for longer periods. There's 1986 national primary champion Joshua Waitzkin of New York, subject of a fascinating recent book, ``Searching for Bobby Fischer,'' in which his father, Fred, looks at the life of a prodigy and his family. There's Dean Ippolito, of Richfield Park, N.J., who ranks second only to Viloria among 10-year-olds, and who defeated older players to win the under-13 US Junior Open title last summer. Also ex-national elementary champion Bobby Seltzer of West Roxbury, Mass., and Erez Klein of New York, two of the top-rated 13-year-olds; David Peterson of Texas, the highest rated 8-year-old; Jessica Ambats, 15, of New York and Yvonne Krawiec, 13, of California, the best girls in their age categories. The list goes on and on.

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