Rachel Miller making big moves in chess

Sports

Rachel Miller making big moves in chess

By Rowena Coe

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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Rachel Miller became Jamaica's second Woman International Master (WIM), after WIM Deborah Richards-Porter achieved the title in 2014.

The 20-year-old Miller is currently the highest-rated active female player from Jamaica, and the second youngest-ever in the Caribbean to be awarded this title. Her recent performance at a FIDE tournament in Ottawa, Canada, has taken her over the elusive 2,000-rating bar and satisfied her last requirement to become a WIM, even though still in her final year playing as a Junior (Under 20).

Upgraded from Candidate Master (CM), Miller has been an inspiration to many young female (and male) players in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. Her story is one of hard work, dedication and perseverance, and she provides a shining example to other young people in sport.

A mother's intuition

Miller's chess journey began at the age of nine when her prep school started a chess club, which her mother encouraged her to join. She protested as she thought chess was for nerds, as many people still do, but her mother insisted it would help her with her GSAT scores later on. Miller ended up loving the chess club and receiving a government scholarship to Campion College which she attributes greatly to her involvement in chess. She did very well in local tournaments and then went on to play internationally with the assistance of Coach Warren Elliott, who is an eight-time National Champion, a FIDE Master, and still one of Jamaica's highest-rated players.

She became known as “the girl who was really good at chess” through her high school years and then into university in Canada, where she now resides.

The opportunities

Chess would take Miller all over the world – Azerbaijan, Barbados, Costa Rica, Colombia, El Salvador, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Norway, Panama, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, the USA, Venezuela, among other countries. She says of her travels, “Each international chess tournament is a growing opportunity. Whether it is growth in chess knowledge, cultural knowledge, or character, I always come back from a tournament changed somehow.”

She now represents Jamaica at the highest levels of chess on the Women's World Olympiad team, and hopes someday to become Jamaica's first Woman Grand Master.

While an obvious benefit of Miller's chess journey has been her international exposure, chess has evidently helped her in school. She asserts that chess has helped her to think critically, which has been hugely beneficial in many of her university courses. Chess has also enabled her to handle university stress, having learned from an early age how to manage the demands of juggling chess training and arduous competition, along with schoolwork.

The sacrifices – for Miller and her parents

The biggest sacrifice in Miller's chess journey has been time. The time it takes to improve is extraordinary. Apart from training for hours on a daily basis, local tournaments take up an entire weekend and international tournaments can take up entire weeks. This takes away from other activities, friends, family, and work opportunities; so while chess has brought so much to her life, she has also made huge sacrifices.

Janice Miller, Rachel's mother, acknowledges that her daughter's chess journey has been a family endeavour. Her father took on the role of manager, while she and Rachel's sister provided a lot of emotional support. In fact, Rachel's sister, Rianna, became her biggest cheerleader. Mrs Miller states that, “Our standard rule has been that once she enjoyed playing chess, we would support her to the best extent possible. We are also deeply appreciative of the roles played by the Jamaica Chess Federation [JCF], her coaches, sponsors and all others in Rachel's journey.”

When asked what advice she would give to other parents of chess players, Mrs Miller says: “Support your child by being an active part of their chess life.” She notes, “You have to be the mental, emotional, physical and, yes, financial support. And know that being there at the end of a match – win, lose or draw – is important to your child.”

She goes on to lament the fact that chess as a sport does not attract the level of sponsorship that is needed for kids to get the international exposure required for development, and that parents face significant constraints in developing talented children. She acknowledges, however, that she has started to see some signs of positive change, with the support of the Government of Jamaica and the Olympic Association.

A message to aspiring athletes

Rachel's message to other aspiring chess players could apply to young athletes in any other sport. She says that, first and foremost, she would tell juniors to never give up. She says sometimes it may seem as if you are not progressing significantly – despite deliberate practise – but she has a goal of improving daily, even if it is only by one per cent. It has taken five years for her to secure this latest title, which brings her one step closer to becoming a Woman Grand Master. Dedication and perseverance are evidently critical components to reaching one's goals. She also believes you need to work hard and work smart since time is always a factor, especially when you have other responsibilities. As she nears the end of her university years and will enter the working world thereafter, time management will become even more critical in her chess journey, but she does not show any signs of giving up on her dream of becoming Jamaica's first Woman Grand Master.

Miller also recommends that young people believe in themselves. She thinks it is really important to trust yourself, believe that you set your own limits, and that no one else's success should define the extent of your own potential. After all, she says, “Where would Usain Bolt be if he thought he could not compete with athletes from countries like the United States?”

What does the future hold?

Miller's chess journey continues to evolve. She is a life sciences major at Queen's University and she is now giving back to society through chess. While balancing student life she volunteers at a local hospital where she has created a volunteer chess programme, which she believes has many benefits for patient recovery, for example, in helping to rehabilitate stroke victims.

She says, “God has bestowed a talent on all of us and we have to use it as effectively as we can. Mine is chess, so I believe I have to use it to benefit and inspire myself and others to do great things.

“Chess is a game of mental strength. People can turn losing games into winning ones as long as they do not think negatively; and underdogs beat champions even when no one else believed in them.”

She added: “It is a game where anything is imaginable as long as you persevere and believe, and I really think that chess mimics life. As shown in the movie, The Queen of Katwe, pawns really can become queens.”


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