Escaping with the knight

Escaping with the knight

Yaamini Venkataraman

Senior Vivian Nguyen breaks the gender barrier by becoming the first female member of the chess team

When most people mention chess, nerdy boys in wide-framed glasses, plaid shirts and pants worn too high seem to comfortably fit into the all-too-common stereotype of chess players. But why let the pieces of the game command the gender makeup: MVHS Chess Team, welcome your missing queen.

Currently, senior Vivian Nguyen is the only girl to compete in tournaments against other schools. She used to play chess when she was little, but that was not enough to propel her to room B206 at lunch until the beginning of this year. The nervous Nguyen first walked into the guy-filled room for the joy of spectating. Immediately, a couple of guys on the chess team noticed the fresh face and challenged her to a match. Ever since, the welcoming environment and her love for challenges compelled her to become a devoted member of the team.

Senior Vivian Nguyen intently watches a challenge match during a Chess Club meeting Nov. 19th. Photo by Yaamini Venkataraman.Since Nguyen wasn’t a strong player, club advisor Scott Catrette appointed fifth-ranked senior Eric Rubin, a veteran Chess Club member, to teach Nguyen basic strategies and plays. According to Rubin, "she took it all pretty well." To figure out which Chess Club members actually compete, the club holds an initial tournament to rank the players, and the top seven members become the official Chess Team. Surprisingly, Nguyen—a novice—placed eleventh out of over thirty members members, putting her as the fourth alternate for competitions. She has subbed for the seventh ranked player in two tournaments, one on Sept. 30 at Lynbrook High School and the other Nov. 13 at Cupertino High School. With the latter being only her second tournament, her impressive win was unexpected.

"Everybody [was] shocked," Nguyen said.

"She’s drawn a lot of attention by how much she’s absorbed the game," Catrette said. "There’s a sense of team pride."

She credited her win to her focus on playing the game. As she moved every piece, she became more and more lost inside the intricacies of the game, completely escaping into it. According to Nguyen it would be "awesome" if there were more girls in the club, but she understands that chess cannot be forced on a person and that it takes time for someone to acquire a love for the game.

"I would have never pegged myself as a good chess player," Nguyen said. "I joined on a whim, [and the players’] enthusiasm really inspired me."

Unknown to most people unfamiliar with chess, the queen is the most important and versatile piece in the game. With skills and passion, Nguyen is no short of royalty.