Oberlin Chess Club Makes Its Move

February 26, 2013
Elizabeth Kuhr
Pictured left to right are club members Drew Wise, August Olsen, and Ali Amiri at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships in December 2012.

As anyone in the Oberlin College Chess Club (OCCC) can attest, the game of chess is not for the weak of mind.

“You’re using up a lot of mental energy,” says junior economics major August Olsen. “It’s a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, extremely anxious situation.” 

This past December, under the leadership of Women’s Tennis Head Coach Constantine Ananiadis, the OCCC took that feeling on the road to Princeton, New Jersey, to compete in the 2012 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships. The three competing students were the first to represent Oberlin in the club’s history.

“National championships was definitely a learning experience,” says sophomore Kalind Parish, an economics, politics, and law and society major. Despite their inexperience with the competition, which is the premier intercollegiate chess team tournament in the North, South, and Central Americas, the OCCC placed fourth in their division — “a great start for us,” says Ananiadis.

It was just last spring that cochairs Parish and sophomore psychology major Ali Amiri brought the chess club back to life from a decade of inactivity. The club had been flourishing in the mid-90s, says Ananiadis, holding events and inviting to campus such famous chess players as Josh Waitzkin and Maurice Ashley. Then, for whatever reason, the activity died down. 

For the past year, the club has worked to get back on its feet by organizing weekly public games held on Friday afternoons on Wilder Bowl and in Slow Train Café. At times, says Parish, more than 50 people have shown up to compete.

“It’s been really fun,” says Parish. “It’s shown us that there’s a lot of enthusiasm on campus.”

OCCC members have arrived at chess by many different paths. For Parish, whose grandfather played chess, the draw came from his family.

For many students, however, the game of chess is simply a fun and challenging way to spend time. The more you play, the more you become entranced, says Olsen. It’s like a puzzle. “You look at the board and you see that there’s one best move here, and there’s one way to ensure winning the game — how do I find that? Where should I look to improve my chances of finding that?”

The members of OCCC see their group developing over time. To encourage growth and participation, Ananiadis will teach an Experimental College (ExCo) chess course in fall 2013.

“The ExCo class will teach basic chess skills, then help students to progress to a more advanced level,” says Ananiadis, who sees the course as a recruiting tool for the club. “I’m doing this work so that our students get experience. Playing over a board is a little different than playing online.”

The club also plans to participate in more organized chess tournaments. Along with attending one in Dayton, Ohio, this semester, OCCC will host a competition on campus during the first weekend of March. Sponsored by the United States Chess Federation, the competition takes place in the Carnegie Root Room and is open to the public.

More future plans for OCCC include hosting the Pan American Championships on campus in the next few years, and offering chess classes to children at Oberlin’s Prospect Elementary School. 

“The more the club develops on campus, the more we’ll get players out of the woodwork, says Parish. “But even so far, it’s been a great experience. Definitely one of the more rewarding things I’ve done.”

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