From Teenage Chess Students to Exemplary Adults


When I lived in Austin, Texas, from 1992 to 1996, I taught group chess classes and private chess lessons. Two of my private students were Heather Flewelling and John Hendrick. Heather became an astrophysicist and John became a chess teacher.

On March 26, 1995, John Hendrick and Heather Flewelling were paired in the last round of the Texas Junior Championship. Their game was a draw. During my next private lesson with Heather, we annotated the game. She sent her notes to the Austin Chess News, which published the game on April 28, 1995.

In October of 2014, Heather was featured in Chess Life magazine. I was honored that she mentioned me as a role model in that article. Heather is the architect and builder of the world’s largest astronomy database. She enjoys ham radio; her callsign is AH7RF. Heather is engaged to Sidik Isani, a software engineer at Canada France Hawaii Telescope. My cousin, Alex Rudolph (Director of Cal-Bridge), Heather, and Sidik attended the American Astronomical Society meeting in 2017 in Grapevine, Texas, where I took this photo of them.

Alex Rudolph, Heather Flewelling, Sidik Isani
Alex Rudolph, Heather Flewelling, Sidik Isani

In 1995, John escaped analyzing the Hendrick-Flewelling game for me. However, I found a crafty way to ask John for that game analysis! When John and I chatted recently over Facebook, I asked him to analyze a mystery chess game as if both players were his chess students. He completed a thorough analysis. I also have inserted Heather’s annotations, taken from the Austin Chess News.

After John analyzed on June 2, 2020, he told me that the mystery game reminded him of a draw he had with Heather years ago. Notice that both John and Heather fianchettoed their bishops. I love fianchettoing, and may have passed on my passion for putting bishops on long diagonals to my students.

At the end of July in 1995, I gave John (then 15 years old) a ride to the Klein Chess Camp. At a McDonald’s play area on the way from Austin to the Klein Chess Camp (near Houston), I took a photo of my two-year-old daughter Clarissa and John. To spend every afternoon with Clarissa, I taught chess in the mornings only during the camp week (July 31-August 4). John taught chess all day, his first time working as a chess teacher. Jim Liptrap hired us and was the founder and director of Klein Chess Camp. I contacted Jim for a quote for this article.

Clarissa Root (age 2) and John Hendrick (age 15) July 30, 1995
Clarissa Root (age 2) and John Hendrick (age 15) July 30, 1995

Jim Liptrap emailed, “Alexey was ‘Head Master’ at most of my Klein Chess Camps from 2001 to 2011, and was always able to bring in talented young teachers, and to mentor them to become even better teachers. Among those were Heather in 2006 and John in 2007, although John and Alexey had also taught at my first camp in 1995. All three were a pleasure to work with, and fine teachers.” Jim maintains a website, which is particularly helpful for Houston, Texas chess players.

In 2010, John married Dani, a schoolteacher. They have a daughter, Gwen, who turns 6 at the end of July. John is US Chess-rated 2176 and is 40 years old. He hopes to reach a master rating (2200 or higher) before he turns 41 in September. To improve his chances to make master, John is taking chess lessons from International Master John Bartholomew. Bartholomew emailed, “I’ve only been coaching John for a few months, but I’ve been impressed by his commitment to improving all aspects of his game, his dedication to playing longer time controls with corresponding analysis, his thoroughness in completing assigned homework, and his interest in helping his own students and viewers of his Twitch channel. This last part is actually why I believe he will make National Master: he loves the game, and sharing his passion with others drives him to further understand the game.”

John Hendrick, photo by Dr. Greg Beaulieu
John Hendrick, 2019
photo by Dr. Greg Beaulieu

John Hendrick’s company is Foundation Chess. On June 6, John was interviewed by Evan Rabin, CEO of Premier Chess, who I wrote about on SparkChess. John and Evan discussed teaching chess, particularly teaching online during the pandemic. John does not recommend the French Defense to his beginning students, because it can get very complex.

At 41 minutes into the podcast interview, John highlighted his quest for attaining a master rating. He mentioned advice from IM Bartholomew, including adopting the Slav and Caro-Kann openings and reading Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. John is playing slow time control tournaments in the LoneWolf League on and then analyzing his games, first on his own and then with a computer.

To listen to the Premier Chess podcast (interview of John Hendrick), click on this link. You can also follow John Hendrick (ChessCoachJohn) on Twitch and Evan Rabin (premierchess) is on Twitch as well. To keep up with Heather, look to the sky for Comet Flewelling or follow her on Twitter.

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on

About the players

One Response

  1. J. WILLIAMS. Aka Heathers mom.
    J. WILLIAMS. Aka Heathers mom. at

    Wonderful article and both players have been very successful in their adult lives. It amazes me that you were the common element that guided them both on a path to not only become chess players but be accomplished adults. Kudos for all and thank you for sharing your chess knowledge to them and “booting” them into the world. You are the connection that made great things happen.

    I remember driving Heather to classes and visiting with your pet bunny. I can never thank you enough for believing in her and being her mentor and friend.