AIKEN --- When Tori Whatley had her first chess lesson, little did she know that five years later she would be South Carolina's top-finishing girl chess player and would represent the Palmetto State in a national tournament this summer.
"I'm just so excited about going and meeting all the different girls," said Tori, 12. "It's a huge honor."
Tori was the top sixth-grade player at the South Carolina Scholastic Championship last month. The South Carolina Chess Association agreed to send her to the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls in Lubbock, Texas. One girl from each state is chosen to participate.
The invitational will be held at Texas Tech University from July 27 to Aug. 1.
Tori is a student at Merriwether Middle School in North Augusta, where she is a member of the Merriwether Mavericks, the school's chess club.
Tori's interest in chess began one day when she was rummaging through a closet at home. The then-7-year-old discovered a rook that had fallen out of box, and she asked her dad about the strange object.
David Whatley decided to teach her about the game.
"By the third game, she had it figured out, and then it was a matter of practice," he said.
Tori also rekindled Mr. Whatley's interest in the game, which he had played casually when he was in the Navy in the early 1980s.
"It didn't take her very long before she was able to beat me," he said. "After about a year, I was really no contest for her."
Chess is the type of game that transcends generations, Mr. Whatley said.
"It's something Grandpa can sit down with the grandkids can play," he said.
Mr. Whatley is the coach of the Merriwether Mavericks, and both father and daughter are members of the Aiken County Chess Club and Aiken Public Safety's Police Athletic League Chess Club.
Mr. Whatley said that although chess is a fun game, it also helps develop critical thinking and logic.
"You may be defending against an attack while trying to mount an attack," he said. "You've got to be good at multitasking."
Chess is not just a passing interest for Tori. She plans on playing the rest of her life.
"Just a few tournaments a year, and you can make a living off of it," she said, adding that her goals for the game are ambitious.
"To start with, I plan on being the South Carolina state champion, then I hope to be the U.S. champion, and then I'll move on to, hopefully, world champion."
Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.