On Campus

Chess circuit rookies clinch state title

Nearly two hours into the final game of an 11-hour tournament that would determine the state championship, Spencer Solit ’19’s opponent ran out of time.

“We all heard a beep, and we were state champions. We tackled Spencer out of his chair in celebration and ran along the halls screaming,” Sam Gloss ’19 said. “We were walking on air.” 

Sam, Karthik Padmanabhan ’21, and Upper School (US) Chess Club co-presidents Spencer and Matthew Keating ’19 enjoyed the victory alongside Math Teacher Mariah Napeñas, the group’s faculty advisor and coach. It was the first time the club had participated in any sort of competition, never mind a tournament or a championship. 

The annual Massachusetts State Scholastic Chess Team Championship, known as the Hurvitz Cup, took place on April 22 in Marlborough and involved over a dozen schools. Organized by the United States Chess Federation, the competition opens online registration to groups from both public and private schools. 

The tournament followed the Swiss system style of chess, which is characterized by its four-round system. During the competition, each team played four games, gaining one point for a win and half a point for a draw. After every round, schools were paired against others with a similar number of points. Victory went to the team that had accumulated the most points by the end of the four rounds.

In competitive style chess, the games are timed, so at the start of each game, each player had a timer set to one hour that would run down during the player’s turn. Once the player moved, they’d hit the clock, pausing their timer and starting the other player’s. The game ended when one player checkmated the other or when the other ran out of time.

Ms. Napeñas said the day’s games varied in length, with the longest lasting two hours. The team dedicated all of Sunday to the fight for the championship, which started at 9 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m.

Despite their eventual success, team members said they had approached the competition with uncertainty.

“Before the tournament we had pretty low expectations,” Sam said. “We knew we had a good team, but we realized that we probably didn’t have enough talent to win.”

As the tournament continued, however, the team kept progressing. By the final round, they had logged one win, one loss, and a draw, positioning them to take home the cup or land second place. 

Spencer described his last game as particularly nerve-wracking and his strategy as “letting the opponent beat himself.”

“When you need a win, you can’t play it safe,” Spencer said. “You can’t choose the best move. You have to choose the move that will mess your opponent up.”

The strategy worked. Spencer still had two minutes on his clock when his opponent ran out of time. 

“We were trying to keep ourselves from jumping up and down and screaming as Spencer walked away,” Matt said. “It was awesome.” 

At the end of the tournament, the team was awarded the physical Hurvitz Cup that they then brought back to school.

“The trophy is literally too large to fit in the sports case,” Sam said.

Spencer and Matthew established the Chess Club in ninth grade with the help of Ms. Napeñas and approval of Mr. Theobald. Sam and Karthik joined because of their previous chess experience; both regularly compete outside of school. 

Ms. Napeñas said the group began expressing enthusiasm about competing in November of last year. 

“I said, ‘Alright, we can make this happen—let’s get started!’” 

“It took a little bit of time to get approval to compete in this tournament since we weren’t actually a team, we were just a club making that transition from club to team,” she added. 

The club typically spends Tuesday X block playing against each other in a relaxed setting with plenty of candy supplied. In the future, Spencer said, when the team expects to participate in more tournaments, he wants to use meetings for more targeted preparation.

“I want to think about getting a little bit more lesson into our meetings so that it can be a little bit more drill-focused,” Spencer said, expressing hopes that more success at future tournaments would help the club garner the official title of “Chess Team,” which distinguishes them from a non-competitive club. 

“We want to reach out to the new freshmen and upperclassmen and get everyone to keep coming to Chess Club,” Spencer added.

And why should one want to play and compete with the Chess Club? 

“Well, we’re chess champions,” he said. “That’s a pretty good incentive.”

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