As part of our continuing “This Girl Is On Fire” campaign, we conducted an interview with Stanford student and chess star Rochelle Ballantyne.
We first learned about Rochelle, who grew up in East Flatbush, when she was featured in Brooklyn Castle, a documentary that chronicled the powerhouse chess program at Williamsburg’s I.S. 318. She in now all grown-up, attending Stanford University on a full scholarship.
In 2008, Garry Kasparov played a 20-board chess simulation against some of the top young players in the New York Metro area. According to a Chessbase article:
Kasparov didn’t hesitate when asked afterwards which game had been the toughest. Rochelle Ballantyne had maintained the balance with solid play until finally being blitzed off the board when there were only three opponents remaining.
As a freshman at Brooklyn Technical High School, Rochelle won the All-Girls National Championships and was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas.
Inspired by Harvard’s “I, Too, Am Harvard,” project, Rochelle along with EKela Autry started “Stanford RISes: Conversations on Race, Inequality, Sexuality and Gender.”
Tell us about Stanford RISes.
Stanford RISes is a project my friend and I started to make students more aware of how the stuff they say and the way they view people can sometimes be detrimental. We had people tell us stuff that people have told them either face to face or inadvertently and how it made them feel. We were really happy with the output and bravery that the people who participated displayed.
What are you studying at Stanford?
I’m double majoring in Political Science and African and African-American Studies
What are you looking to do after graduation?
I’m not really sure but I know it’s going to include law school.
What motivated you to start playing chess?
My grandmother actually forced me to play, but what kept me playing is that I really really wanted to beat her.
Do you believe that learning chess is at least partly responsible for your success?
Yeah 100%, I can’t even imagine my life without chess. I owe so much to that game.
How often do you currently play or study chess?
Whenever I can, I have less time now but I try to still play.
Do you still hope to become the first African-American female chess master?
Tell us about your experience with the documentary Brooklyn Castle
Uh so the actual filming of Brooklyn Castle I don’t actually remember, it’s kind of weird seeing myself and seeing that that’s how I used to act. But Brooklyn Castle has an incredible message and I’m glad people are realizing and starting to help out afterschool programs.
What was it like to play chess with Jon Hamm of Mad Men?
It was awesome, I love Mad Men and it was a little surreal I couldn’t believe he was there and he was playing me it was just great.
Are there any other memorable chess games that you would like to talk about?