Chess-wiz Nadya Karolina Ortiz is Colombia’s first and only woman grandmaster.
Raised in a middle class family in the central Colombian city of Ibague in the Tolima department, Ortiz is one of Colombia’s lesser known success stories.
At the tender age of four, Ortiz asked her father, himself a chess enthusiast and Russophile, to teach her how to play. Within a week, she was supposedly making moves at a ten-year-old level. By 16, she had won the under-20 Central American championship in Barbados. Ortiz went on to study computer science at University of Texas at Brownsville on a chess scholarship. She graduated summa cum laude and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the same university.
“Chess is an addiction, and a lot of people don’t know much about it,” said Ortiz. “It’s its own world. A professional chess player needs to study as much as someone trying to become a doctor.”
In collaboration with her father, Ortiz created a chess program for schools in her hometown. In August of 2011 it began operating in 32 schools in her native city of Ibague. According to the grandmaster, there are many benefits to learning chess, including attentiveness, memory, and concentration. The sport, which is steadily building its Colombian fan base, also teaches time management, problem solving, and sportsmanship.
“One of the most satisfying results was that the children were encouraged and were not obliged, because in general, chess can be boring for many…in 2012 there was an increase in children associated with the chess league, which for me is a great step forward, because this shows that we instilled in them an appreciation,” said Ortiz.
In 2010, she traveled deep into the heart of Russia to an oil boom town, Khanty-Mansiysk, where the World Chess Olympiad was held. She came home as Colombia’s only woman grandmaster.