Welcome to the Club: Checkmating the stereotypes

You may have seen us on occasion, while eating lunch in Commons after Friday classes: a bunch of bystanders crowd around a chessboard. They cheer as two players try to best one another in a battle of the wits. Tensions rise as the timer nears zero. The players stare at the board in desperation. They swear with every breath. Then, with an audible thunk, one player plays a killer move. The audience leans back with a sigh. The battle is over.

While we wish we could always exude an aura of excitement, we know we’re kind of nerdy. Nonetheless, the Yale College Chess Club isn’t as exclusive as you might think. We often get 20 to 30 different players at our meetings throughout the week. And despite the stereotypes, we’re not all science majors, we’re not all dudes, and we’re not all that good at chess.

And it’s a good thing that we aren’t. Chess shouldn’t be some kind of elitist sport. (We’ll leave that to golf.) It instead should be a way to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of Yale life. Unlike some of the snobby superstars at Harvard, we don’t play to get better; we play to have fun. We’ll play speed chess, we’ll play team chess, and we’ll even play salt shaker chess. We’ll play whatever it is that keeps the game fun. You want exciting? Ask to watch a game of bullet chess. You’ll see the plastic soar, hear the trash talk fly, and it’ll all be over in just two minutes. If you don’t believe us, make the request — we promise you it’ll be worth your while.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t join us and play a game yourself. We have players of all levels — and we mean all levels. There’s a senior who learned the rules in his freshman year and two years later represented Yale at an intercollegiate tournament in Texas. On the other hand, some of us haven’t gotten better at all over the years. Our best chess player is a math grad student who competes internationally. When he stops by, he likes to playfully comment on our poor play in his thick Romanian accent. I’ve had him say to me, “You have better position. You are clearly winning. But you say, no, no, I don’t like winning, I am afraid of success, I give you my queen to be fair. Your opponent says, ‘Nom, nom, delicious!’ and then you lose.” So trust me, and trust him: we’re not that good.

We invite you to help us throw off the nerdy stereotype and drop by for a quick game. And don’t tell us you don’t have time; we meet all the time. Whether it’s playing casually over dinner or chilling over lunch, whether it’s studying openings in the library or examining a grandmaster game — you can pretty much find us anywhere. People may think that we’re obsessing over chess, but really, we’ve just found a great way to procrastinate. Chess is the perfect homework alternative. The best part is: it’s a game! And while we’re at it: yes, chess is a world renowned sport, according to the International Olympic Committee.

Can’t find us during the week? We hold a special chess tournament every April: the Bulldog Chess Classic. It’s an afternoon-long tournament open to all Yale affiliates. We don’t just get undergrads. Grad students, law school students, School of Management students and even faculty come by, drawn by the monetary prizes (yes, chess can make you money). With so many players, it’s easy to find fair matches for everybody, which helps to dispel the common “But I’m not good enough!” myth that makes newcomers to the club so apprehensive.

Long story short, if you’re at all interested in chess, feel free to come by and check us out. Take a break, pull up a chair, and play a game. You’re always welcome at the Chess Club, no matter how much you may object. Trust us: you’ll fit right in.

Lawrence Moy is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. David Steinberg is a sophomore in Silliman College. They are the President and Treasurer of the Yale Chess Club, respectively.

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