The Bashkansky family Chess Travel blog

Bashkansky family's Chess Travel blog - parents Guy and Ludmila with children:
NM Ethan and WIM Naomi - World School Chess Champion (Girls Under 13)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Seattle-Harvard Road Trip

 The Great Transcontinental Traverse

We drove Naomi from Seattle to Boston for her freshman year at Harvard.  Her dorm move-in is on August 25 morning, which means we leave on August 14 and spend 11 days on the road.  

These might be the easiest transcontinental trip directions ever:  Drive on Interstate 90 east for 3,064 miles (45 hours).  To make it fun, Luda found a road trip guide to I-90.  We follow it in reverse, west-to-east.  

Here are our August 2021 travels in Google Maps location history:

Here are the daily photo albums from our trip, click on each link to see the photos:

  1. 2021-08-14 Road trip day 1: Packing minivan, leaving house, central WA wind turbines, Ginkgo petrified forest, Columbia River, Sprague Lake rest area, Spokane at night

  1. 2021-08-15 Road trip day 2: Coeur D'Alene + Lake, Cataldo Mission, Red Light Garage, Wallace Bordello, Center of the Universe

  1. 2021-08-16 Road trip day 3: Prison Museum, Auto Museum, Yesterday's Playthings, Frontier Montana, Powell County Museum, Police Memorial, Iron Horse Cafe in Three Forks, driving family, Greycliff Prairie Dog Park, Montana's luxurious rest areas, hotel view

  1. 2021-08-17 Road trip day 4:  Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, The Bozeman Trail Steakhouse, South Dakota's monumental rest area, Deadwood Western-themed town, Mount Rushmore at night

  1. 2021-08-18 Road trip day 5: Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, Dahl's Chainsaw Art, Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City Art Alley, Firehouse restaurant, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Dignity Statue, Chamberlain sunset

  1. 2021-08-19 Road trip day 6: Chamberlain SD Veterans Park, World's Only Corn Palace, City of Sioux Falls, Cathedral of St. Joseph, Devil's Gulch, Jolly Green Giant

  1. 2021-08-20 Road trip day 7: Jolly Green Giant, Spam Museum, Sushi Pirate, Pearl Ice Cream, Fiberglass Mold Graveyard, Witches Gulch

  2. 2021-08-21 Road trip day 8: Voyageur Inn, Circus World Museum show and exhibits, Pink Elephant, Michigan hospitable rest area

  3. 2021-08-22 Road trip day 9: Indiana: Shipshewana Amish Country, Mennonite / Nazarene Church, Pokagon State Park, Ohio: palatial service plaza, Olde Avon Village, Serbian Cultural Garden and Superman's birthplace in Cleveland, Holiday Inn Express

  4. 2021-08-23 Road trip day 10: Holiday Inn, Pennsylvania's provincial rest area, New York State's imperial rest area, Eternal Flame Trail, Iron Skillet restaurant at TA truck stop

  5. 2021-08-24 Road trip day 11: Days Inn, Cross Island Chapel, Hudson River, Massachusetts spirited rest area, A Friendly Inn At Harvard, Mona Lisa Pizza

  6. 2021-08-25 Road trip day 12: Naomi Harvard move-in, Guy and Luda stay at A Friendly Inn, evening walk around Harvard Yard

  7. 2021-08-26 Road trip day 13: Harvard Yard walk: Memorial Hall, Annenberg Hall, The Plaza, Thayer Hall, John Harvard Statue, Weld Hall, Grays Hall, Old Yard, Widener Library, Memorial Church, Stoughton Hall, Holden Chapel, Harvard Hall, Holworthy Hall, Science Center, Sanders Theatre, Fitzgerald Theatre

Friday, May 7, 2021

Naomi goes to Harvard

 Harvard vs. Stanford... Godzilla vs. Kong?

Naomi has been accepted to study Computer Science in Stanford, Georgia Tech, UW, UT Austin and Harvard.  Stanford's CS is the best, but Harvard is the most alluring. 

Complex Chessboard

The US university admission system can be daunting.  For the uninitiated, the distinctions between Early Decision, Early Action, Restrictive Early Action, and Regular Decision are incomprehensible at first.  And yet, it has much internal logic and even, dare I say, evolutionary beauty of stochastic assortative mating.

We were spared this entire tribulation a few years ago with Ethan, because he got into the UW after 10th grade, through the UW Academy early admission program.  Having started college at 16, he lived mostly at home and graduated with a BA Math degree in just 3 years, at 19.  So we got off lightly the first time.

Naomi is 5 years younger, and wanted to graduate from high school first, and then go to a top university through a usual application process.  We were about to experience the pleasures and bewilderments of the Admission Game.

Naomi decided to study Computer Science (CS).  She's a head of computer programming at her school's massive FIRST robotics club, highly competent and enthusiastic.  That said, Naomi is not a typical computer geek.  She also has many other interests.

Computer Science is a good trade, though.  Rife with gainful employment, a lot of entrepreneurial prospects, eligible bachelors all around.  And all this supposedly complex CS stuff is very easy for Naomi, with her strong math ability, chess-trained memory, and deductive thinking.

Thoughtful Opening

The college admission saga typically starts in September when a senior student returns from the summer break to the last year of high school.  The atmosphere at both school and home is pregnant with talk about college applications, submission deadlines, early actions, fateful decisions, date collisions.  

To make order in it all, we maintain a document and a spreadsheet with all the relevant information, and keep track of what needs to be done next, when, how, and where.  For Naomi, it's a great exercise in scheduling what is urgent and important ahead of anything else, and she becomes very good at it, with only a slight nudge from us.

Generally, you can apply for Early Action at one college only.  Selecting it is a critical step which stages the rest of the application process.  Turns out, some colleges are a bit more permissive than they might seem.  

Stanford's Early Action regulations allow parallel Early Action applications at some other universities, and in cases of pressing scholarship deadlines.  Out of those, Computer Science is good at Georgia Tech, and UT Austin prestigious Turing Program.  Plus, our local UW is allowed, with a November 15 regular application deadline. Thus, Naomi has her opening quartet: Stanford, GT, UW, UT Austin.

Grueling Middlegame

Each university requires a separate application, with its own idiosyncratic set of fillable forms, questionnaires, and especially multiple long and short essays.  Most colleges accept the Common App, but still require custom essays and information.

Naomi powers through the applications.  We can help her by providing specific data on her exact education history, our family, origins, background, different dates, numbers, official documents.  But she does all the heavy lifting by writing dozens of essays on a bewildering bevy of topics.  

We read the essays and constantly admire Naomi's youthful creativity and sophistication.  Sometimes we advise her to tone down, an adult wariness of piquing an admission officer's interest too much.  Luckily, she has a lot of amazing things to write about.  Some are related to our chess travel history and dramatic tournament events.

Early Capture

So Stanford and Georgia Tech are applied to in October, UW in early November, then UT Austin, USC, BU and Harvard (almost an afterthought) in the long Thanksgiving weekend.  There is a short respite before the Stanford Early Action decision is revealed.  

And then on December 11... drumbeat... it's a yes!  Naomi is accepted into Stanford.  As customary nowadays, we video-record the first immediate reaction to the message:

2020-12-11 Naomi Stanford acceptance reaction video

Stanford is ranked 2nd in the world, and is the most selective among US universities.  At that moment, there is no doubt in our minds that Naomi is going to Stanford, with its combination of best Computer Science, warm climate which she prefers, familiar West Coast culture, superb name recognition, and beautiful campus.  

Naomi goes into a daily routine of asking us foxily "Guess what?" We feign innocence "What?" She pounces "I got into Stanford!"  No other university appears as appealing.  Maybe MIT would be comparable, if Naomi were more of a geek.  She applies to MIT in late December during winter break.

Gaining Material

Stanford and MIT are so mentally dominant that it reduces the drama of other target colleges' responses.  It seems less important now, with Stanford already assured.

On January 23, Georgia Tech accepts.  That's nice, it's a good place with great CS.  If they only knew what they're up against, bless their hearts.

On January 29, UT Austin accepts, into its praised CS Turing Program.  Naomi enjoys meeting these people online, likes them a lot, and tells them directly she'd probably go to Stanford.  That's a good skill to have.

On March 12, UW accepts, with CS direct admission!  That's a dream of every geek in our metro area.  Every high-tech parent here, in dozens of huge corporations and hundreds of startups would be elated to learn the kid got into the most exclusive UW CS directly.  We feel the tingles of desire to keep the girl close to home.  But Stanford is still a better choice.

Turbulent Endgame

The closing college quartet takes quite some time to respond, but our waiting is not tense at all.  They are not even Plan B at this point.  The Admission Game is over, and Naomi has won.  It's only interesting for the technicality of keeping the score.  Or is it?

On March 14, Pi Day, MIT waitlists Naomi.  We knew this would be their most probable response.  Still, Ethan is shocked.  "She is exactly what they would be looking for in a candidate.  How come they are not grabbing her?"  Beware the Ides of March.

Well, when it rains it pours.  On March 27, Boston University also waitlists Naomi.  That's genuinely surprising.  C'mon, what now?  Would she even get accepted to a KinderCare preschool, in this March bloodbath?

On March 30, USC outright rejects Naomi.  This is a new, and almost exciting, feeling for us all.  Of course USC was in the news lately because of its admission scandal.  And it is not anywhere near top by Naomi's preference.  Still, how could anybody reject her?  We just tick it off as funny.

But April follows March, and the wheel turns.  On April 6, Harvard's decision is revealed.  Naomi wouldn't let us into her room for the customary reaction video.  She takes her time, we wait.  Then, a scream!  She's in.

Game Results


On date




Name recognition

Shanghai rank

CS Shanghai rank

CS studies rank

CS Research rank




Stanford, CA









Georgia Tech

Atlanta, GA









UT Austin (Turing)

Austin, TX










Seattle, WA










Cambridge, MA









Boston U

Boston, MA









U of Southern Cal

Los Angeles, CA










Cambridge, MA







Checkmate Sacrifice

Now there is a choice between two top universities.  Suddenly Harvard is in the game, and pulls its considerable weight.  This was not even Plan B after that early Stanford acceptance 3.5 months ago.  An epic battle unfolds in our minds.  We see parallels with the recently watched movie Godzilla vs. Kong.

Stanford Computer Science is huge and much better known.  It's the epicenter of the Silicon Valley high-tech start-up ecosystem.  The prevailing spirit is entrepreneurial.  Everybody dreams of becoming the next Elon Musk, or something.  However, Naomi is not driven by the idea of creating a startup.  She's concerned about imposter syndrome.  Nearly half of Stanford undergrads study CS, so Naomi would be a small fish in a big pond.  And the California vibe is famously laid-back.

Harvard Computer Science is small and less known.  We hear it's more theoretical in nature, and more intimate.  Naomi would be a big fish in a small pond.  She likes Harvard's more serious, less laid-back vibe.  There is no social pressure to create a high-tech startup.  Naomi enjoys CS, and it pays well; however, she is not totally obsessed with it, so a more liberal arts education sounds nice.  Life can take her away from CS, but the Harvard name recognition would stay.

The decision is reached, it's Harvard.  Checkmate!  Stanford becomes an elegant piece sacrifice. Godzilla beats Kong.

Postgame Analysis

Have all those years of world-level chess achievements paid off big time?  As a Woman International Master, we think Naomi is the highest-titled American female chess player applying to colleges in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.  Her being the World School Girls U13 Chess Champion, and North American Junior Girls U20 Champion, and many-times US Girls champion might have helped as well. 

Or maybe it's the perfect ACT test score 36?  Plus GPA 4.0, SAT 800 in Math II and Chemistry, AP exams 5-s?  National Merit Finalist, National AP Scholar?  Or being Head of Programming at FIRST Robotics Club; an intern at UW Computer Science Makeability Lab; knowing multiple programming languages?  How about being a true-to-spirit teacher's pet?  Maybe the adoring recommendation letters from her educators and supervisors made an impact?

We'll never know for sure.  Naomi's chess might have provided that "whompf" factor that tilted the scales.  Especially in the era of The Queen's Gambit chess glamour.  Stay tuned for Naomi's combined college response video at her YouTube channel.  Postproduction takes time!