Battle on the board

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Battle on the board

Yifei Wu

Students pursue their interest in competitive art of chess.

[dropcap1]“M[/dropcap1]ove the knight to D3.”
“No, the bishop is over there. Move the queen.”
“Wow, Neel’s queen is magical.”

Chess Club President junior Neel Apte and member freshman Kesav Viswanadha battled against each other on the chessboard on Jan. 22. A black phone was set beside the board as a timer: each player had three minutes total to make their moves; whoever won more pieces when the time was up became the victor of this mini-game. Apte’s time was down to less than a minute while Viswanadha still had around two minutes.

Apte scratched his head, rolled up his sleeves and leaned forward, staring motionlessly at the chessboard. Viswanadha, on the other hand, started chatting with members who gathered around the table; however, he soon realized he was in trouble when Apte knocked out his bishop. The chatting stopped as both Apte and Viswanadha stared at the board, their hands fiddling with chess pieces nervously.

[quote_right]“There are more positions in a chess game than there are atoms in the universe.” — Junior Neel Apte[/quote_right]

For the members of the Chess Club, it has been their routine to gather in B206 most weekdays during lunch and battle a game or two on the chessboard in order to hone their skills. Mastering chess is not easy; it is a process that requires perseverance, practice and love for the game.

“There are more positions in a chess game than there are atoms in the universe,” said Apte. “That’s why I love chess.”

The numerous combinations in chess make it an intricate art. Even for Apte, who has been playing chess for seven years and is currently one of the highest-ranked players in the district, chess games can still be frustrating at times especially when he makes a careless mistake. According to Apte, when that happens, he practices more to become better.

“When you are playing chess, you go through the same physical reactions as athletes … your heart rate increases, and your hormones go up,” club advisor and English teacher Scott Catrette said. “Chess is intense.”

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The game at this desk is delayed for the members to watch the battle between Apte and Viswanadha, two of the highest ranked players in the district. Typically, the members play two or three games during lunch every day except Tuesday. At home, the students choose to play online games, read tactic books or do both to hone their skills. Photo by Yifei Wu.

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Junior Kevin Rosenberg chats with freshman Kesav Viswanadha, who plays a chess game on Jan. 22. The members not only battle each other on chessboard but also talk about game tactics. Photo by Yifei Wu.

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Junior Neel Apte tenses up when he senses his opponent’s victory. Despite the competitiveness of the game and the difficulty of progressing in skills, Apte still loves chess and has been playing the game for eight years. Photo by Yifei Wu.

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Apte fiddles with his pieces nervously during the game. “There are more positions in a chess game than there are atoms in the universe,” said Apte. And it takes practice, perseverance and poise to master chess. Photo by Yifei Wu.

In order to master the intense and intricate game of chess, Chess Club members use different methods to hone their skills. Apte, for example, reads tactic books; Viswanadha, another top-ranked chess player, plays online games; Vice President senior Myron Loke, pays attention to each game that he plays and tries to learn from the mistakes. But he also recognizes that progressing in chess is hard.

“Chess is very time-consuming,” Loke said. “And it is frustrating when you are not getting better … I think [that’s why] most people quit.”

According to Loke, chess tournaments typically take up an entire weekend; if it is a master-level tournament, it takes at least a week. And mastering the game itself requires practice, practice and practice.

Loke spent almost two hours on chess every day in elementary school, but when he started high school, the two-hour commitment became impossible. He quit chess in middle school, regretted it, and picked it up again after two years. Nowadays, he still practices outside of school but not as much as before, and plays chess during lunch with his fellow club members.

“[The reason why I quit was] I felt like I wasn’t getting better, so I just stopped playing … when I should have practiced more to get better,” Loke said.

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Apte plays against Viswanadha again on Feb. 10. They limited the time for each move to 15 seconds. The pace of the game was faster, but the game also became more stressful for each player. Photo by Yifei Wu.

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Viswanadha (right) and Rosenberg listen to Apte analyze the positions in the middle of a game. In preparation for the Nationals in April, which will consist of seven two-hour long individual rounds, Apte plans to explain to members more about game tactics and openings, for strategy is an integral part of chess. Photo by Yifei Wu.

On Feb. 1, the team participated in a local chess tournament, and unsurprisingly ranked number one — they have been first in the district for three years. The small victory alleviated the intenseness of the games — only somehow.

Apte, ranked second individually, played against Junior Daniel Zhang, ranked third, on Feb. 6. This time, they had a real timer. Each player tapped on the plastic button after making a move. The clicking of the timer soon picked up the rhythm as they made a few quick moves, knocking out each other’s pieces.

Then a pause.

“Your king is stuck,” Zhang said.
“I know,” Apte said.

He frowned and stared at the chessboard, fiddling with a chess piece; on the other side, Zhang quieted down and also leaned forward, fiddling with a piece of unfinished bread crumb. Across the room, two freshmen in the club were playing against each other, throwing their arms up in the air in despair or in joy, yet Apte and Zhang sat silently.

Apte scratched his head, and continued to fiddle with his black pawn. Then suddenly, he moved a piece and knocked out Zhang’s bishop and clicked the timer with the knocked out piece. Zhang responded by tackling down Apte’s pieces. The clicking of the timer picked up the rhythm again.

Several other members, including Viswanadha, gathered around the board.

“I think [Zhang] is going to win… no [Apte] will be okay…no actually it will be a tie,” Viswanadha said.

But they would never know. The bell rang, and Apte put the pieces back into the little black bag unwillingly; Zhang drew in a long breath and stretched. They would meet across the chessboard sooner or later. The game would still be intense, and they would still not know the outcome of the game until the last minute — but they know that they would continue to battle on the chessboard, fiddle with the pieces and think hard to find the next move, regardless of the outcome. Just as they have always been doing.