One move to the checkmate

Kevin Sohn, News Editor

While many sports are just starting to get back to normal with pandemic restrictions slowly lifting, one club has been operating as usual throughout quarantine: the NHS chess club. In fact, the club is thriving, as they held their very first organized tournament this month.

In a rather casual tournament, a Discord server was used to communicate with the participants and Google Sheets was used to track tournament seeding. To compensate for the varying skill levels, board members also set up a “second-chance” bracket for those who lost out in the championship one. Overall, the goal was for club members to have fun while also experiencing a competitive environment.

“Of course, there’s pressure just because games determine whether you move on in the tournament,” junior Elton Manchester said. “However, everyone is friendly, and pretty often people would show up to support each other during the matches.”

Leading up to this tournament, members would routinely play games with individuals around the world on the free website Chess.com, which both served as good practice and also a potential way to improve their international rating.

Every few games, the members would share each other’s scores and think of tactics to improve their performance. Because Chess.com also allows for players to see live streams of the top international players, the club would also occasionally get together to watch and talk about their favorite moves.

However, that preparation, though informal, would prove to be very valuable. The environment provided a health dose of competition and comradery among the people. Despite the friendly undertone, this tournament was not to be taken lightly. Each round was a best-of-three between two players in the rapid, blitz and bullet formats. Rapid matches would last around 10 minutes, blitz three minutes and bullet one minute.

“If they panic or not depends a lot on how experienced the player is,” club treasurer junior Adam Godina said. “Blitz and bullet are the main formats online because most people don’t want to spend too much time for one game, but for newer players, it would definitely be a lot more stressful.”

As such, being able to participate in an actual tournament was a valuable growing experience for many of the members. Incredibly, 99% of the five million games played everyday on Chess.com are either rapid or blitz format, so for the newer players, this may be the beginning of a hard journey. But, of course, the $100 prize pool for the tournament certainly isn’t a bad way to start either.

“Moving forward, we’re thinking of a bigger tournament where we can get the participation of chess club members from other high schools in Irvine,” Kim said.

The chess club has already begun on this endeavor of connecting to other high schools, with tentative plans of participating in an Chess.com tournament hosted by the University High School chess club on March 20th. The hope is to create a strong community of chess enthusiasts in Irvine despite the hardships of COVID-19.

“We created a tournament just for fun, but we’re not just going to stop there,” Kim said.