ChessMaine Interviews: Lily Briggs

04.06.07 Lubec, Maine is the first town in the lower forty-eight to see the sun rise each morning. Lubec is also a bright spot on the Maine chess landscape as it's the home of the 2007 Maine Scholastic Girls Champion Lily Briggs. In this interview, Lily shares her thoughts on many topics including the Girls Championship, growing up in a chess playing family and homeschooling.

2007 Maine Scholastic Girls Champion Lily Briggs

To help support Lily getting to the Susan Polgar National Invitational Tournament for Girls in August, 2007, please consider making a donation to: The Washington County Chess Federation c/o Lily Briggs 1138 North Lubec Road Lubec, ME 04652. Thanks!

ChessMaine: First off, congratulations on winning the 2007 Maine Scholastic Chess Championship for Girls.

Lily Briggs: Thank you! And thank you, Dan, for running these girls' tournaments; last year it was one of the reasons I started playing seriously. I hope it continues to encourage more girls to play chess.

CM: Your win at the Maine Scholastic Championship for Girls makes you eligible to participate in the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls held alongside the 2007 U.S. Open in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Will you be able to attend this tournament?

LB: I hope so. We haven't made any final plans yet, but we're going to try.

CM: Do you recall when you started to play chess and who were some of your greatest influences?

LB: I have been playing chess since I was a toddler chewing on my father’Äôs chess pieces. I've only been studying and playing seriously, though, for about a year. My dad and siblings have been my greatest influences and encouragers.

CM: Last year you finished second in the girls tournament, just half a point behind the winner, Margaret Bryan. Can you describe how you were feeling and how you gauged your chances in the run-up to this year’Äôs tournament?

LB: Actually, I felt like I kind of squeaked into second place last year without truly earning it; I was never paired with several of the top players and wasn't sure I could actually defeat them. However, I also knew I'd improved a lot over the year, so winning, or at least placing well, was certainly a possibility’Äîbut I tried not to get overconfident in any way.

CM: You are a 12th grader this year. Did you feel any additional pressure as this was your last shot at the title?

LB: Well, I definitely wanted to play well, but I didn't feel a lot of pressure to win, necessarily; I just wanted to do my best and not blunder away my last chance.

CM: Which game do you think was your best from this tournament?

LB: The final game with Maggie was the most challenging. Both of us were so determined not to give the other any chances that the game got somewhat blocked up and stagnant for a bit in the middlegame. I often blow it in these situations by making wild, unsound moves in order to get things moving faster, so I had to force myself to be patient, use my time, and be sensible. Of course, afterward I found all sorts of things I could have done or should have done better, but when have I ever played a game when that wasn’Äôt the case?

CM: Who is the most difficult opponent you have faced over the board?

LB: Roger Morin, rated over 2000 and co-champion of Maine in past years, is the strongest player I've ever had the privilege to play; needless to say I never stood a chance against him, but I learned a lot both from playing him and from the tips he gave me afterward.

CM: Do you have any particular way that you prepare for a tournament?

LB: Play chess!

CM: Who is your favorite player? Do you study the games of great masters of the past?

LB: I don't really have any favorite players. I don't know a lot about famous players’Äîat least, not enough to pick favorites. The Polgar sisters do come to mind; they inspire me. I do study games that are in Chess Life a lot.

CM: How do you improve in chess? Do you have any advice for aspiring players to improve their game?

LB: I think it's really helpful to play stronger players often. You learn a lot more when you lose than when you win.

CM: Are there certain books you have benefited from?

LB: Thinking Ahead in Chess by I. A. Horowitz and Fred Reinfeld is the book that first made me more serious about chess. It helped me understand the game a lot better’Äîand it is written in a style that makes chess seem very fun and exciting! I also like The Immortal Game by David Shenk. I doesn't teach anything about how to play better, but it heightened my interest in chess which I think leads indirectly to improvement in playing.

CM: What is your opening repertoire, that is, what openings do you play with black and white?

LB: I use the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian against e4 openings. To be perfectly honest, I haven’Äôt learned any opening for black against 1. d4; I usually just feel my way along if I’Äôm faced with it. When I play white I use the Stonewall pattern. I like this one because people don’Äôt see it very often and don’Äôt always know how to counter it. Of course, now that everyone knows what I play, I’Äôll have to change ;)

CM: Which phase of the game do you consider your strongest (Opening, Middlegame or Endgame)?

LB: I guess the Opening’Äîdefinitely not the Endgame, though I think that's the most fun to play.
The Washington County Chess Federation, headed by your dad, has been hosting monthly tournaments in Washington County. Do you feel like this has helped your game over the past year? Yes, it has helped immensely. Not only has it given me lots of tournament practice and kept me playing regularly, it has also given me opportunity to play often against strong players.

CM: You come from a family of chess players and you are a homeschooler. Can you describe your experiences in these two realms?

LB: Being homeschooled has definitely been one of the biggest blessings in my life. I love it. Having a large family of chess players has certainly helped my chess playing a lot; I get to play lots of different people every day without leaving my home! My dad and brother, Hoty, have been great teachers. Hoty and I have fun helping each other improve by playing constantly; it's interesting to watch how our styles and strategies evolve as we each keep trying to top the other's newest strategy. The non-chess-players in my family, my mom and older sister, help in their way, too; they often send cookies along with us to tournaments and are always front line in our cheering section.

CM: What are your plans for next year? Will you be attending college and do you plan to stay active in chess?

LB: I am definitely planning to attend college, although the exact whereabouts is still in the works. I’Äôm certainly going to continue playing chess.

CM: Is there anything else about yourself you would like to share with our readers?

LB: I'd like to encourage and congratulate all the other girl chess players out there. It's wonderful to see fellow girls doing well. I’Äôd also like to thank all of you who have encouraged and inspired me this last year; I’Äôm so proud to have had the chance to be part of the whole chess family of Maine, and I’Äôm going to miss everything so much when I’Äôm gone next year! I wish I’Äôd started playing chess earlier.

CM: Thanks so much for the interview, Lily.

LB: You're welcome. Thank you for your interest and encouragement.

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