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Thalia Cervantes Landeiro, one of the top female junior chess players in the United States, is a Women’s International Master and a National Master. Above, Cervantes Landeiro competes in the 2018 U.S. Junior Championships.

Thalia Cervantes Landeiro knew as a 7-year-old she liked the way chess pieces felt in her hands.

When the native of Cuba became mesmerized by the game, her innate chess skills landed her in competitions. It also propelled her family to relocate to the United States to pursue her chess career.

She said that in Havana school staffers typically teach youth how to play chess at early ages.

“I’m the only chess player in my family. My parents knew the basics at the beginning, but with me quickly gaining interest in the game, they also began to learn more and more,” said Cervantes Landeiro.

Now the 16-year-old is a Webster Groves resident who soon heads into one of her biggest contests yet: the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at the Saint Louis Chess Club, 4657 Maryland Ave.

The tournament, scheduled for July 10-20, is the country’s most elite, invitation-only junior chess competition. The event showcases the top young female players in the country and serves to promote chess at the scholastic level.

This is the third time Cervantes Landeiro is competing in the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. She will vie for a $10,300 prize purse.

As one of the top female junior players in the United States, Cervantes Landeiro is a Women’s International Master and a National Master. Most recently, she won first place in the Pan American Girls U20 2018, and tied for fourth place in the World Youth Chess Championship 2018.

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Thalia Cervantes Landeiro (left) in a match against Jennifer Yu.

Of the 10 players invited to compete in the Girls’ Junior Championship, Cervantes Landeiro is the field’s top-ranked player and the only one who hails from the St. Louis region.

“I enjoy all aspects of chess: the history of it, its evolution, the competitive spirit that it brings to you, and the benefits that will help you in the long run, such as improving memory and problem-solving skills. It’s just an amazing game I think everyone should learn,” she said.

To prepare for the upcoming competition, Cervantes Landeiro said she studies diligently. “I believe in discipline and hard work,” she added.

The teen’s overall goals in chess are to get as much from it as it can give her.

“I hope to never grow tired of chess, and to enjoy all my years to come as a professional player. I hope to some day become a Women’s World Champion,” she affirmed.

Cervantes Landeiro already won two scholarships for Webster University during chess tournaments when she was 12 and 13 years old. She is working toward her high school diploma through the accredited James Madison High School, an online school.

“I’m very grateful to Webster University and the Susan Polgar Foundation for the opportunity,” she said, adding that she will continue to use her teenage years to focus on chess.

This summer brings a hallmark for the Gateway City as the Saint Louis Chess Club hosts multiple levels of national championships during the same period. For the first time ever, the U.S. Senior Championship — an invitation-only tournament for the top 10 players in the United States over 50 years old — will run simultaneously with the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships during July.

This is the third time for St. Louis to host the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

Covering the action will be the expert commentary team of Woman Grandmaster Tatev Abrahamyan, Grandmaster Robert Hess and Grandmaster Jesse Kraai. They will provide game analysis daily via an online broadcast stream starting at 1 p.m. To tune in for the broadcast, or for more information about the competition, visit www.USChessChamps.com.