Chess team breaks seed, captures third-place finish at State

Image courtesy of ETHS Athletics

Image courtesy of ETHS Athletics

The ETHS Chess team was seeded fifth upon entering the Illinois State Chess tournament, held on Feb. 11-12. However, the team proved predictions wrong, breaking seed and ultimately placing third. 

“I was really, really happy to place third. I don’t think many of us were expecting a podium finish, especially since we were without our second-best player and even before that we were seeded fifth. There ended up being seven teams finishing 6-1, with Evanston among them, so it was all up to tiebreaks,” senior Peter Kezdy shares. “In the end, our very close match against Stevenson and our very dominant wins against other teams gave us a big edge in tiebreaks and helped us finish on the podium. In the grand scheme of things, third place is much better than we could have hoped for going into the tournament.” 

When entering the State tournament, the ETHS chess team was focused on personal performance. Different than other IHSA programs, the State tournament for Chess includes a large number of teams—128 according to Kezdy. 

“We qualified based on our second place sectional finish a couple of weeks prior. However, unlike most sports and activities, getting to State isn’t the most difficult task since 128 teams qualify. We were much more focused on actually performing at State rather than just qualifying,” says Kezdy. 

Junior Isabela Maiewski comments on the atmosphere of the State meet where everyone has a shared appreciation for the sport. 

“Whenever the round started, it would be super quiet, and it was amazing to see how focused and concentrated everyone was. You could walk around and see different facial expressions, some happy with their position, some shaking their heads with disappointment and some stressed out because they were low on time,” says Maiewski. “We all did really well with our matches, but the one match against Stevenson was the most intense match, because everyone was in pretty equal positions, so they used the two hours for time control fighting the best they could.”

The success of ETHS’ team was due to the perseverance and dedication of the team throughout their entire season. Time after time, the players exceeded their expectations, proving to be a consistently strong team. 

“I think that the big theme throughout the whole season was that, while our results were always much better than expected, we always fell short of being the absolute best. We finished second place in many tournaments, and without fail, we had extremely close losses to the teams that won those tournaments.” Kezdy adds, “Our one-point loss to Stevenson was obviously no exception.”

Every year, ETHS Chess becomes an increasingly competitive program. From placing 12 at State in 2021 to third in 2022, this upward trend only appears to continue in the future.  

“I was really happy with the team getting third place. It was the first time the chess team got top three since 2005 which is a major accomplishment for the team. Overall, we were all super happy with the results and now we want to focus on getting first place for next year,” says Maiewski. 

The team is already looking forward to next year and the opportunities with a strong team. 

“The good thing is that our team is still young. Out of the 11 of us that played in State, only two of us were seniors. Our best player, Elijah Platnick, is a junior and went 7-0 on board 1 at the tournament. I think that, next year, with the younger guys moving up and our stronger players getting even better, Evanston is going to be a much stronger team than they were this year. I don’t see anything stopping them from being the best in the State,” says Kezdy. 

ETHS’ Chess players are celebrating their success at this year’s State tournament and reflecting on the highs and lows of their season as a collective team. While the sport is individual in competition, the team is tight-knit, always supporting each other. 

“In between rounds, we help each other prepare openings and ideas that will be the strongest based on the next opponent and also help each other learn from our losses and mistakes,” concludes Kezdy. “After our painful loss to Stevenson, I was very upset with myself for losing a drawn position that lost us the match. My teammates comforted me and told me that many of them missed similar opportunities in their games. I ended up winning my games in the next two rounds to end the tournament and, as a team, we helped each other recover from the loss to still finish strong.”