Club Chronicles: Chess Club

by Will Li (’23) | March 10, 2023

Photography by Krish Rastogi (’24)

The timer ticks down to the final ten seconds. Eyes darting back and forth across the board, the player considers several tactics in a split second, searching for a move that could yield victory. But alas, none are to be found. Uncertain of the outcome, the player plucks a piece and places it in a check—but not a mate—on the other side’s king for what will likely be the penultimate move of a hard-fought game.

In Saint Francis’s Chess Club, players of all experience levels can find themselves in moments like these. “There’s a lot of focus when you’re playing,” explained board member Reyhaan Gehani (’24). “The level of concentration is just really inspiring.” 

But intense focus on gameplay doesn’t preclude new friendships. The club strives to provide an environment where members can “make new friends and just have a good time” while playing chess, explained board member Krish Rastogi (’24).

The weekly meetings typically begin with an educational portion, during which board members cover various types of chess content such as puzzles, where one must identify the optimal move or set of moves given a certain board configuration, according to club president Kasper Halevy (’24). At other meetings, members are introduced to different openings and endgames, which are sequences of moves for starting and finishing a game, Halevy explained. The club also reviews famous games, such as one played by DeepMind’s Alphazero against Stockfish, both of which are chess computers. 

After the lesson, members are free to play against each other and even co-moderators and fellow chess enthusiasts Mr. Mike Chechelnitsky and Mr. Evan Pasion (’03). “I really like the time given to just play chess,” commented Bhargava Kanakapura (’24). “The best way to learn is by doing.”

“It can be social as well,” added Gehani. “A lot of times I find myself having a conversation with my friends while playing.”

For Arav Bansal (’26), the benefit of the unstructured play time is the opportunity to play opponents with higher ratings, which he feels has helped “build [his] skill” while also enabling him to meet new people. Meanwhile, Tej Nadkarni (’25) enjoys free play for a different reason: “You get to beat your friends.” 

Saint Francis last boasted a standalone Chess Club during the 2000s before coming back this last December with Halevy’s first club meeting. At that meeting, “each board member had to contribute a board,” Halevy explained. And even with the extra boards, “it was B.Y.O.B.—Bring Your Own Board—if you can.” But today, he said, the board shortage is a problem of the past. 

Looking ahead, he added, the club is considering hosting a schoolwide tournament, possibly with teacher-versus-student games and “simuls,” where highly rated players compete against multiple opponents in multiple simultaneous games.

Regarding the future, Rastogi also mentioned potentially increasing the presence of the club around campus by offering additional informal meetings where anyone can play: “We want to bring Chess Club to Saint Francis in a way so that we can have Chess Club here at the Gathering Stairs, we have Chess Club during this lunch.”

But no matter what the club’s future plans are, these chess enthusiasts can continue counting on enjoying themselves while bonding over their shared passion each week. “People love to compete against one another, but at the same time, they enjoy thinking and problem-solving together,” explained Chechelnitsky. “There are times when we solve chess puzzles together, and people enjoy that aspect of reasoning where it’s not just competing with the person right in front of you.” 

Rastogi added that at meetings, he most relishes club members’ reactions—the “smiles on people’s faces”— when shown famous games or games played by chess engines.

Categories: Features

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s