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The Holdovers Review
February 20, 2024

Checkmate Success: James Caldwell High School Chess Club’s Remarkable Transformation

Richard Zhang and Alan Huang battle it out during Chess Club.
Photo Courtesy of Jada Williams

“Chess is everything: art, science, and sport.” – Anatoly Karpov

The Past: Chess Club’s Humble Beginnings

Chess Club is an ongoing extracurricular here at James Caldwell High School (JCHS). Chess Club is a place where kids who have taken an interest in the game can come and play with others casually and/or competitively. At our school Chess Club takes place on B and C days during lunch time, so everyone who wants to attend has a chance. Last year, Chess Club was only one day of the week, so it was not as flexible for people who had lab on that day. 

As a junior, I have been attending the Chess Club since my freshman year. During freshman year the advisor for the Chess Club was the English teacher Mr. Cohen. I found out that Mr. Phelan retired as the Chess Club advisor after the pandemic. Over the past two to three years, I have noticed a drastic increase in attendance at our school’s Chess Club. 

I remember that as the year progressed during my freshman year in the Chess Club, there were very few consistent members. So more often than not the members would play the same people over and over again. It was fun and each day I would learn something new about the game. The members always pulled a new technique or rule during the games which kept us on our feet. Having a small number of members was cool in the sense that everyone got to know each other, and we were able to build a rapport with one another. 

Even though we had fun, at times I wondered, how come the club room is so empty? I felt like it would be nice to have more members to play and socialize with. As the Chess Club of the year 2021-2022 came to an end for the school year, we ended well with the faithful few who stayed throughout the year. Unfortunately, the majority of the Chess Club members that I had seen throughout the year were seniors, so they would not be returning for next year. Mr. Cohen, the advisor, had also mentioned that he was leaving the school to work in a different state. I was pretty sad about all the changes with the club, knowing that I would not be able to play with them next year. But this also made me curious as to how next school year’s Chess Club would look like. 

The Transition: New Leadership and a Surge in Membership

As we transitioned into the 2022-2023 school year, exciting changes were in store. Since Mr. Cohen had left, Dr. Toncic had taken the position as the new Chess Club advisor. Dr. Toncic is a phenomenal chess player and challenging to beat in a match. During last year’s club fair, I met two new Chess Club members, Richard Zhang and Alan Huang. With Richard’s sharp eye on the board and Alan’s wittiness, they make any chess match against them entertaining and full of surprises. Richard and Alan had greeted me at the Chess Club table during the fair when I was signing my name on the chess sign up sheet. I remember looking at the sign up sheet and seeing a good amount of names already on the list. I was glad to know more people signed up that year. Knowledge of our school’s Chess Club was spreading. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a lot of  that year’s freshmen liked the game. All of a sudden the Chess Club became popular. During the Chess Club meetings, the room was filled. So many more kids attended compared to the previous year. I remember freshman year there would be empty chess boards sitting in the room collecting dust. However, sophomore year there were barely enough boards for everyone to play with at times. I noticed that other Chess Club members enjoyed having more kids in the club to play with just as much as I did, which was nice. One of my favorite feelings was knowing that you’re next to play against one of the kids who are hard to beat. If a game got really intense, kids would start to gather around the table to watch as the game unfolded. People would cheer each other on and sometimes guess who they thought would win the match. The Chess Club year of 2022-2023 started and went out with a big success!

The Present: Chess Club Thrives

As the 2023-2024 school year began, many students were already discussing the Chess Club for the upcoming fair. People were looking forward to the Chess Club making its reappearance at the fair since last year was pretty nice. During the fair so many people had signed up for the Chess Club that by the end of the fair, there were 3 pages filled with names! I was so shocked and excited that so many people wanted to sign up. Even our principal, Mr. Devlin was amazed by the sign up sheet. I saw Mr. Devlin pass by the tables during the club fair. So I said “Hi” to him, and in excitement told him about the number of people who had signed up for the Chess Club this year. 

He looked at the sign up sheet and said “Wow, looks like you may need another room for the club with all these people’.’  

One of the members, Alan Huang, was also really happy and surprised at the turnout rate. This year he said, “with more than 60 members” Chess Club has become “quite a large club in our school,” compared to the year before, “the club size had tripled.” With all these attendees at the Chess Club, the room is as lively as ever! So far, it’s been about a month since the Chess Club started, the club’s future appears promising. Another one of our club members Richard Zhang is also happy with the Chess Club’s popularity, he says “having a decent amount of people in the club makes it more fun and engaging for everyone.”  This is only the beginning. I hope to see the Chess Club continue to flourish this year with the help of Dr. Toncic and all the Chess Club members. 

I believe that Chess Club is a place for everyone. There are so many transferable skills in the game of chess. There is more to learn in chess than how to move game pieces on the board. In chess, you learn strategy, technique, you learn how to evaluate a situation and how to calculate your opponent’s next move. So far in the Chess Club, I’ve come to learn that visualization is key to a sharper eye in a chess match. I believe we learn and grow in community. So join us as the Chess Club continues to flourish here at JCHS. Are you ready to make your move in the world of chess? Come to room 517 on B and C days during lunch! Discover the strategic world of chess while making friends and sharpening your skills.

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