They arrived in the U.S. in August of 2010, but couple Maraani Kamphorst and Andre Diamant were world-traveling chess champions before they ever set foot on American soil.
International relations major Andre Diamant, 22, was first exposed to chess at age four when he learned the game from his sister and father. Today, his father doesn’t stand a chance. In the last 18 years, Diamant has played chess tournaments in over 20 different countries including Greece, France, Spain, Germany, Cuba, China and Russia.
“My father used to play chess, not for tournaments but for fun. (Chess is) a challenge and I like challenge,” Diamant said.
Diamant is the youngest chess player to be a two-time national collegiate champion, from competitions in 2011 and 2012. In addition to that title, Diamant is also the youngest grandmaster ever in Brazil.
“Andre is an exceptionally good chess player,” said Susan Polgar, director of Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) at Webster University. “He was the champion of Brazil at 18. He brings a lot to the table and is an important part of the team.”
The other half of the duo is Diamant’s wife, 21-year-old international relations major Maraani “Mara” Kamphorst. Her love for chess began at age 10 when she participated in a chess tournament at her school.
She won and moved on to a city tournament where she again came out victorious. She progressed to a region-wide tournament, which she also won.
“Mara is bringing a lot to the table more from a social aspect, in an organizational aspect, helping direct tournaments or teach classes, or bringing a community service element to the program,” Polgar said.
Diamant said the two have tentative plans to “move back to Brazil and finish our degrees.” For now, the couple said they are content with raising their 3-year-old son, Isaac, in St. Louis. Diamant and Kamphorst are already encouraging Isaac to play chess.
“He’s starting to learn the name of the pieces, but if he likes it, we’ll have the option for him,” said Kamphorst.
Kamphorst is familiar with teaching. She serves as a children’s chess teacher and often finds that the lessons chess provides can last for life.
“Every time I tell them (the students) to do tactics and puzzles, I tell them that it’s not only going to help them in chess but learning how to do these things will help them to have very fast thinking and logic. It’s proven that kids that play chess are better in math and logical thinking and critical thinking,” Kamphorst said.
Diamant and Kamphorst met at a chess tournament in the Hebraica Club in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September 2007. They moved from Sao Paulo to Texas shortly after their marriage three years later in 2010. There, they were able to join Susan Polgar and her team.
“We are really happy to be here with Susan Polgar,” Kamphorst said. “She’s been wonderful with us. She told us she was moving (from Texas to St. Louis) and we followed her. She had been really nice to us.”
Polgar was also happy to have the couple join her team at Webster.
“They’re a lovely couple,” Polgar said. “They’ve done the life experience that gives them the maturity probably a little bit earlier than most cases.”
Polgar, Diamant and Kamphorst came to Webster just before the 2012-2013 school year. Though they stayed in Texas for almost three years, Diamant and Kamphorst said they are still adjusting to their new life in the U.S.
“In Brazil, we had more friends, of course,” Diamant said.
Kamphorst added that the weather in Brazil was more stable compared to St. Louis’ climate.
Something Diamant and Kamphorst said they enjoyed adjusting to was American cuisine.
“We can eat everything: Japanese food, Vietnamese food,” Kamphorst said.