Taking on one opponent in chess can be daunting enough, but Sabina Foisor took on 39 at one time Friday afternoon at John Bapst Memorial High School.
Seated around the Bangor high school’s Sekera Auditorium were 39 chess players eager to take on Foisor, a chess grandmaster who was playing for her first time in Maine. New and veteran players of all ages waited patiently for their moment with Foisor, a native of Romania, as she made her way around the auditorium, shaking hands with players before making her first move.
The event is called a simul, short for simultaneous exhibition, in which one player faces multiple opponents simultaneously.
“It’s kind of a nice thing for people to get to play me,” Foisor said. “It’s a fun experience.”
The simul kicked off two days of chess-related events in Bangor. Later on Friday, Foisor gave a lecture to female chess players. On Saturday, she is scheduled to hold a coaching session for participants before the Maine Girls’ Chess Championship at the Bangor Public Library.
Foisor, 29, began playing chess as a 4-year-old and reached the title of grandmaster at 18, which she compared to earning a college degree. It’s the highest title a chess player can attain in the international chess organization FIDE aside from world champion.
“It does take a really long time,” Foisor said, acknowledging that it can be expensive, too. “You have to put in a lot of hours. It’s not as easy as it might seem.”
Foisor said she wants to encourage girls and women to become involved in chess, which is normally a male-dominated sport.
“I think that women can play chess very well,” she said. “We are very competitive. We really fight to the end in our game.”
Michael Dudley, president of the Maine Chess Association and the chess coach at John Bapst, reached out to Foisor on Twitter last August and invited her to Bangor to participate in the simul.
“I’ve never planned an event this big, and it’s very rare that someone with such notoriety would be in Maine,” he said.
Tom Rackmales, the chess team adviser at Thornton Academy in Saco, brought two female team members to face off against Foisor, including 16-year-old Agata Stoniewska, a Polish exchange student.
“Even as a teacher, I can say that most of the students that came out for chess team were boys,” he said. “We quickly realized that our strongest player was Agata.”