Today, Goleta teenager Agata Bykovtsev turns 15 years old, but this summer, the then-14-year-old beat out 44 girls from 23 countries to win the under-16 division of the Pan American Youth Chess Championship. By winning the nine-round tournament, which was hosted in Oaxtepec, Mexico, Bykovstev — a Dos Pueblos High student born in Uzbekistan who’s traveled to Brazil, Slovenia, the United Arab Emirates, and many other countries over the six years she’s been playing chess — is now recognized as the best female chess player of her age bracket in the western hemisphere. To continue her quest for global domination, she heads to Durban, South Africa, on September 27 to compete in the World Youth Chess Championship.
“This whole experience has been amazing,” summed up Bykovtsev recently, “and I cannot wait for my upcoming trip to South Africa.”
Inquisitive by nature, Bykovtsev gains much more than just titles when she travels. After her three-hour flight to Mexico City, for instance, she found the two-hour ride to Oaxtepec “eye-opening.” She explained, “Though I have traveled to many places, the poverty level of the villages that we passed still shocked me and really reminded me to appreciate the opportunities that I have.”
The tournament started the next day. She won her first five rounds, tied for a draw in rounds six and seven, but prevailed again in round eight, eventually being up by a full point going into the last day and round of the tourney. “All I needed to win gold was to make sure not to lose my last round,” she recalled, explaining that the scoring is based on who has the most points at the end. “One of the hardest parts of playing these large international tournaments is dealing with the pressure of doing well. Though I had dealt pretty well with the pressure up to this last round in the tournament, I finally felt it all come down on me.”
Due to her high points, she was already assured of at least the silver medal at that point but couldn’t be distracted by such matters. “Sitting down at the board before the round, I knew that I had to forget about winning gold or silver and just try to play chess,” she said. “So once my clock started, I played.” When the game got “complicated,” Bykovtsev thought she might lose, but both players had very little time left on their clocks. “On top of the pressure of knowing that this game would determine the tournament outcome, my opponent and I now also had the added pressure of having to think quickly,” she said. “I knew that this would be the decisive point in the game, and that the one that would be able to deal with the added time pressure of the game would have the upper hand. Low on time, my opponent made a mistake, and I gained the advantage.” So Bykovtsev won the game and the tournament.
“Once the game was done and I had absorbed that I had won first place, I sprinted out of the playing hall,” she remembered. “The first thing I did was call my mother [longtime UCSB employee Rita Makogon] and my coach [Andranik Matikozyan] to tell them the news. Next thing I did was go get ice cream!” Overall, the United States also prevailed as a country, winning first place with five gold medals, two silvers, and one bronze.
Following the tournament, Bykovtsev traveled to Oaxaca to learn Spanish while living with a family for six weeks. “I have learned so much, met so many new people, and just overall had such an amazing experience that, even though I miss my family, I just don’t know how I’m ever going to be able to leave this place!” she wrote while still in Oaxaca, where she took dance and cooking classes, toured art museums and ancient pyramids, zip-lined, and even took a street art workshop. “Being away from home and my family for all this time has really helped me mature and become more independent, and I am really grateful for the opportunity that I was given to come here,” she said. “I can’t wait to come back again next summer!”
Of course, South Africa comes first.