While every club has had to adapt to fit the remote ecosystem, Chess Team has had a unique evolution as, despite being able to play chess online, the game is fundamentally different.
“Usually, we would go to the North Cafeteria and would have boards, playing over the board with clients and, after 4:30, we would do fun games with other people. It’s a nice chance to hang out and play chess. This year, it has been quite different,” senior and captain Alan Wang said.
The Chess Team was able to continue to have in-person practices throughout the fall—playing in the courtyard, with plastic screens distanced six feet apart—but, when winter came, they had to transition to a fully digital set-up.
“We’ve been trying different things out over the course of the year,” senior and captain Ian Dunbar said. “Before the season started, the coaches all got together and decided to do this season on lichess.org, which is a chess website, and they figured out rule sets and how things should work. Then, we just started doing matches the same as last year and every year before, but we were doing things in our houses on our computers.”
Despite what may seem like an easy transition, given the nature of the game, this has posed some challenges for the team.
“It’s a completely different game; it’s 2D versus 3D. You can just completely miss where some pieces are; that’s my problem,” Wang said.
In addition to changes to the game itself, including what you are able to pick up from your opponent’s facial expressions and body language, there have been issues of cheating given the remote format.
“The website doesn’t have the best anti-cheating software… [There was one] guy who was cheating all season, and he got flagged for it, but they had him play anyway; the coaches didn’t prevent him from playing for whatever reason,” Dunbar said. “Overall, it wasn’t too big of an issue. Most people had integrity.”
Despite cases of cheating, the team had a good season, especially given the demographics of the team, which is dominated by underclassmen.
“We’ve had a really good season, especially since most of the team is young… We went undefeated in conference and, then, in the state tournament we went five and two; which is not a bad score, a little bit worse than we were expecting, but to be fair, we did get cheated on,” Wang said.
While chess is often played as an individual game, the version played in most high schools is fundamentally a team sport, with eight concurrent boards which are scored together to determine a winner.
“When you’re thinking of a cohesive team that works together in a sport, you probably would not think of chess—you’d probably think of a football or basketball team—but we had it; we had team vibes. We play differently depending on what our teammates do. If my teammates are winning their games, then I can play for a draw, but if we’re losing, I have to play for a win,” Dunbar said.
“It seems nerdy, but it is a ton of fun and you can surprise yourself with how good you’ll become; I did.”