Jeff Sarwer—From a child chess prodigy to a successful poker player

I know that many people have heard of Jeff, either by watching this video

or reading this wonderful interview by Jennifer Shahade.

I recently read the book “Searching for Bobby Fisher” by Fred Waitzkin. (Not the movie as I talked in other posts). Although this book is about the author’s son, another chess prodigy named Josh Waitzkin, there are some descriptions of Jeff, Jeff’s older sister, and his father.  Some excerpts from this book are listed:

About Jeff:

He was different from any other kid I had ever met. His passion for the game was hotter…Jeff believed that no other child was in his class.

About Josh’s coach, Bruce Pandolfini’s comments on Jeff:

For months, Pandolfini had said that if they met, Jeff would be Joshua’s toughest competition. They had similar attacking styles, and both played the endgame with a sophistication rare even among chess prodigies. Bruce had said that if Josh played Jeff it would be like playing against himself.

About Jeff and his father, Mike Sarwer:

Jeff’s father demanded perfection from his kids. In an interview he once described how he had taught Jeff not to have nightmares. In stead of comforting the child, Mike Sarwer would let him to go back to sleep and bring his dream back, but this time he had to overcome the conflict that had terrified him. Mike claimed that both his children had learned to do this…But whether because of his father’s training or because of a natural fighting spirit, spindle-legged, bald-headed little Jeff perceived himself to be a chess superman…Five hundred and fifty kids had come to Charlotte for this tournament and slept in nice beds, but according to several parents, Jeff and his sister and farther slept in their car.

About Jeff and Josh:

Despite their tense relationship, Josh respected Jeff and deferred his great passion…

How to give a kid a happy life when he/she is young? no matter you have  a child chess prodigy or not. It is my intention this site will promote that each kid has a strong mind, strong body and strong bond with parents. Do you want to leave your thoughts here?

Being an adult, Jeff looks quite happy now. I wish Jeff all the best whatever he choose to do.

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8 Comments to “Jeff Sarwer—From a child chess prodigy to a successful poker player”

  1. By ppmint, February 2, 2010 @ 9:54 am

    I agreed with you that this is a fascinating interview by Jennifer Shahade. I’m a bit surprised that this piece didn’t get chosen as one of the 10 “Best of CLO’s 2009” articles.

    What strikes me the most about this interview, other than the life of Jeff Sarwer, was the part when Jeff talked about Josh Waitzkin: “I didn’t know him that well, but I always thought he was a nice kid. …..I always felt sorry for him because it seemed like his dad put a lot of pressure on him. I remember feeling like he maybe didn’t love the game much at all and if that read was correct, then he did extraordinarily well for someone in his position! …” HE DID EXTRAORDINARILY WELL FOR SOMEONE IN HIS POSITION!

    In a recent tournament my son attended, I saw a father with his two sons – both played in the same tournament with my son. The father was so intense on prepping his son to play against my son on the computer…like the fate of the world depended on it! Competitive parents sometimes result in over-stressed, unhappy kids. I remind myself over and over again not to cross the line and kill my son’s love for chess.

  2. By ppmint, February 2, 2010 @ 10:17 am

    Come to think of it, this article was published in 2010, not 2009. Should be a strong candidate for Best of CLO 2010.

  3. By TheChessDad, February 2, 2010 @ 10:42 am

    Yes, in my opinion, the interview by Jennifer definitely deserves a spot of at least top 5. Not getting chosen as one of the 10 “Best of CLO’s 2009″ articles by CLO is an insult to readers of CLO and the author (I think she must put a lot of effort in it).

    I agree with you that to be a chess parent, we must be very careful not putting too much pressure on kids, the result of putting too much pressure on kids will be counterproductive. I know it is easy said than done. As you mentioned Jeff said of Josh:”his dad put a lot of pressure on him”, on the other hand, Josh’s dad think Jeff’s dad “demanded perfection from his kids”.

    Maybe it is a good idea to remind ourselves over and over not to across the line. Do not kill the kids’ passion for chess by our passion.

  4. By Beverly Hills Chess Club, February 8, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

    Bravo for promoting strong relationships between parents and their children. No matter the circumstances or prodigy of the child, nothing should come between them. Glad we came across your blog!

  5. By TheChessDad, February 9, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

    Glad you like this blog.

  6. By toy trinidad, March 26, 2011 @ 4:57 am

    too much pressure from parent(s) so no more enjoyment with that game.

  7. By TheChessDad, March 29, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

    I agree. How to let kids to enjoy the game is most important in their growths. As a chess parent, however, I know it is also very hard to achieve.

  8. By Jojo, June 1, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Definitely I sympathize with Jeff Sarwer, considering what he has been through, and I’m really happy that he has been able to overcome the odds and become his own person. As cliche as it may sound, it’s important to pursue and fulfill your own dreams, and not lead a vicarious and empty life, even for well-meaning yet troubled parents. Not everyone is able to find and to follow his or her own passions, and too much parental pressure can delay important self-discovery. But I think of Jeff Sarwer as a self-made character with a remarkable success story.

    My siblings and I had a similar experience with a strong-willed father, leading a sheltered life in home school, and beginning college at very early ages. We received media attention, but were later taken to foster care, then moved with our father to other countries, and returned here to carve our own paths. Things may be difficult, but reading about Jeff Sarwer reminds me that anything is possible, that our dreams are indeed alive and well, if only we muster up the courage to pursue them. Thanks for sharing.

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