Elina Groberman is a chess champ.

The 18-year-old sophomore from Brooklyn, N.Y., has participated in over a thousand chess tournaments and has played the game in cities around the world, including Barcelona, Cannes, London, and Toronto.

Groberman was the New York state women’s chess champ three years in a row. At age 14, she came in 17th in the World Chess Championships in Cannes, France. The next year, she won the girls’ Pan-American Chess Championship in Brazil. Her biggest success came last year when she became the U.S. Women’s Chess Champion and won $7,250.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” she says of the win. “I was probably the most surprised person in the world.”

Groberman, who speaks Russian, Hebrew, and English was born in Kishinev, Moldova. At age seven, she immigrated to Israel. At 12, she immigrated again to Brooklyn, N.Y.

She learned to play chess at age 6 from her father. She instantly loved the game because “it made me think.” In one of her first games against her Dad, she says, “I got checkmated in three moves. I was devastated and wouldn’t stop crying. He consoled me by showing me how he did it, and then it never happened again.”

GYM FOR THE MIND

One game of chess can take seven hours.

“It’s very stressful and draining. Like any sport, you have to stay in shape,” she says, adding that chess has been called a gymnasium for the mind. “Just as an athlete visits a gym to develop his body, every day you need to train and develop your mind to make it stronger,” she says, adding that the game has helped her to develop patience, concentration, imagination, mental agility and focus.

To stay mentally fit she often analyzes her own moves and studies the moves of others. She reads, practices, and reviews her previous games to correct her mistakes. “You can tell right away when you’re mentally fit. You’re much sharper and can make connections more quickly.

“Chess challenges you to think, solve problems, and strategize. You must anticipate what your opponent will do, so you have to think for two.

“I’m sure that playing chess helped me get into MIT. And it helps me now that I’m here as I think through tough problems.”

She says that always excelling at chess set up a pattern of excellence that has helped her throughout life. “I am very determined to succeed, not just in chess but in all things.”

Groberman is now president of the MIT’s 100-member Chess Club. She also is a member of the Ballroom Dance Club and the Women’s Track Team.

SPREADING THE FUN

In addition to playing chess, Groberman is also interested in promoting the game she loves so much.

Not long ago, she was invited by SmartChess, a company that sells chess equipment, to make a 90-minute video to promote awareness and enjoyment of the game. The video, which features her explaining her winning strategies, is on sale on the company’s Web site.

In addition, she has played exhibition games against children around the world to encourage them to enjoy the game as well. She also has taught chess to children at five public and private elementary schools across New York City.

Although her MIT studies take much of her time, she makes an effort to squeeze in as much game time as possible. She now plays the game about three times a week over the Internet, where there are thousands of players of different skill levels. She also often plays speed chess in Harvard Square, where players each have five minutes to make all moves.

“When you come up with a beautiful move and it turns around the game, it’s such a good feeling,” she says, adding that her expertise has boosted her self-esteem and confidence. “Winning often and being encouraged to succeed really makes you feel great.”