Lukasz Nowak Earns IM Title, Overcomes Spinal Disease

Lukasz Nowak Earns IM Title, Overcomes Spinal Disease

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Lukasz Nowak’s movement off the board may be restricted, but on the chessboard, he can move better than most people. Last month the remarkable 25-year-old fulfilled all requirements for the IM title.

Just months after his birth, FM Lukasz Nowak from Poland was diagnosed with a severe form of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular disease that results in progressive muscle wasting. Currently, he is unable to move nearly all of his body, needing assistance to perform day-to-day actions. 

He learned chess from his grandfather when he was seven years old. He has now reached a level few others can dream of. On FIDE’s latest July list, Nowak is rated at 2408, thanks to significant progress in the last two years.

Lukasz Nowak with his father. Photo: Private
Lukasz Nowak with his father after scoring his last norm in Poland. Photo: Facebook

“Being a chess player with my disability is not easy because so is life. I always have to travel with someone and accommodate us in a wheelchair-friendly place, which is usually expensive. My father has been with me at most of the tournaments but recently was unable to reconcile work and trips. Thus I have to employ an assistant,” Nowak said in an interview with Chess.com.

“Fortunately, I can use a laptop by myself, which gives me some independence. During a game, I say moves, my assistant executes them on the chessboard, presses the clock, and makes the notation.”

Having achieved his first IM norm in 2016, it took another five years to score the second one. Luckily, it only took him another two years to score the final norm—at the 37th Voivoda Cup GM Tournament in Legnica, Poland, in June. Working up to five hours a day on his chess and being coached by Polish legend GM Bartosz Socko for the last five years has paid off, Nowak says. 

“Making the IM title is a huge relief for me. I made my first norm seven years ago, so I was sure I could achieve the title, but somehow I couldn’t perform well enough for a very long time.”

Lukasz Nowak during the Voivoda Cup in Poland. Photo: Official site
Lukasz Nowak during the Voivoda Cup in Poland. Photo: Official site

Nowak finished the 10-player round-robin tournament in second place with 5.5 points, behind FM Jan Klimkowski, with 6.5 points.

“I started the tournament poorly—two out of five points wasn’t the result I would dream of. It was high time to win more games, but I didn’t panic and came calm to round six,” he said about the game he analyzed for Chess.com’s viewers:

“The last three games weren’t so clear, but I managed to score 2.5 pts and made the IM title.”

Asked about the key to his recent progress, he said:

“In my opinion, the most important thing to improve in chess is a daily routine. I mean that, for example, training one hour every day is a lot better than training seven hours one day and resting for the next six days. This is something that has helped me to raise my level of play considerably.”

He says that he wants people to treat him as any other person and that the chess community has helped him feel like one. “Generally, people are very kind and helpful to me,” he says.

Nowak is ready to accept another challenge by chasing the GM title, but with high costs due to his disability, he is looking for a sponsor who can support him.

“Chess is my passion and way of life. I have goals I can achieve. At the chessboard, I can forget about my disabilities and compete like everyone else. I love taking part in tournaments and cannot imagine my life without it.”

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