Growing up in Tiburon, Ladia Jirasek felt like an outsider who didn’t quite fit in with other kids his age who were more interested in playing sports than chess, which he began learning when he was 9 years old.
That is, until he began participating in the after-school programs and tournaments offered by Marin Scholastic Chess. He began to feel part the fabric of Marin’s chess world.
Now 23, Jirasek is an international master, the second-highest title in chess awarded by the International Chess Federation, and is on a mission to pay it forward and inspire the next generation of chess players in Marin and beyond.
Ladia Jirasek is an international master in chess.
A longtime chess coach, he wrote 2021’s “How to Chess,” a guide for beginners. When he’s not mentoring or playing chess, the UC Berkeley graduate works as junior quantitative trader.
Q What got you into this?
A The first time I saw it the wizard chess scene in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” My dad is from the Czech Republic, there’s a big chess playing culture there. My dad gave me a children’s book of chess and he said, “Read through it, if you’re interested, I’ll teach you,” because he knows a decent amount about chess. I read the book, it took me an hour or so, and I was still interested and we started from there. He would never let me win. He wanted me to work on it, to ask questions, to learn from my mistakes. As a kid it taught me if you put in the work and try to get a little bit better every day, you’re going to see that result eventually.
Q How did you become an international master?
A I played and won a tournament in Mexico, and had a high enough ranking, which is also a requirement. That was my favorite tournament, in a beautiful place, too. It was also during my dad’s birthday, and whether it’s fate or not, there was a Harry Potter movie marathon going on the whole time.
Q What was that final match like?
A Nerve-racking because I knew going into the last round that all that I needed was to draw the match to win the title. I was constantly fighting with myself because I love playing aggressive, having the board be full of complications, but the problem is, there’s a great chance I would lose if my opponent out-calculates me. I just played to my style and kept it the same and ended up winning the game anyway.
Q What’s one of the longest games you’ve been in?
A From 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., in Concord playing an old Filipino international master. I always lost to him, so this was the one game that I held him to a draw when he was stronger than me. It can be exhausting. You play an amazing game and then you make a mistake cause you’re tired, and it stinks because you know it had nothing to do about your chess-playing ability.
Q Why do you teach chess?
A Honestly I might like it more than playing in tournaments now. I have so much knowledge and so many things that I have learned along the way. I didn’t have a coach and learned myself. I had to learn some thing the hard way, I had to figure out what worked, so I felt I was in a good position to help kids get better and skip my mistakes.
Q You gave a talk last year about the life lessons of chess. What lessons have you learned?
A Time management and perseverance. You are never going to get anything the first time you try it. You have to put in work. Anytime I lost a tournament or lost a game, I have to go back to look at my mistakes, how to improve that part of my game and keep taking baby steps. The pay out could be the week after, a month later or a year later, but I knew the pay out would be there. This is something that can get lost. If nothing happens in a short period of time, people will give up because they don’t see that pay out but sometimes especially with bigger things, it’s gonna take a lot longer. It helped me change my thought process on a lot of different things in life. I like the outlook I have now because of chess.