Chess Club seeks to expand membership to new players

Using his laptop’s touchpad to move his knight to C3, senior Don Therkildsen completes the Sicilian Ddefense. Sophomore Thomas Zieger exchanges a few words with Therkildsen on Zoom before making his gesture in return. This Tuesday night, after March 2020, a pandemic rages outside, leaving Ithaca College Chess Club to continue play using the modern chess player’s pandemic clutch: Chess.com.

The college one VShess CLub was formed in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic confined it to a virtual environment. Now that the college is fully open, the Chess Club is looking to transform itself into a centralized, established organization for everyone from the best chess players in the college to newcomers. The club will meet every Tuesday from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Williams Hall, room 222. Therkildsen, the president of the Chess Club noted the first meeting was held on September 7 and more than 20 people attended, many of whom were newcomers. He said he was surprised by the turnout and was happy to lead this transformation effort.

“My main ambition, which I have already spoken to my leaders, is to make this Ithaca chess club official, in good faith. VShess VSlub,” Therkildsen said. “We will try to increase the number of members permanently and make ourselves more competitive. We also have a relaxed environment — IIf you just want to show up on Tuesday and play a game of chess and learn a few lessons, you’re more than welcome.”

Therkildsen said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chess Club was struggling to grow because many students were unaware that the Chess Club was meeting virtually or weren’t interested in playing chess online. Junior Connor Watson, secretary of the chess club, said being in a physical space will increase the appeal of the club.

“It will be very different this year now that we are in person,” Watson said via email. “We are delighted to be together in the same space and hope this will allow the club to flourish.”

Zieger, the chess club treasurer, said that although chess is competitive in nature, they attend tournaments and compete against other clubs like Cornell University Chess Club is not the Ithaca College Chess Club’s immediate priority. Zieger said creating a friendly, conversational space for all players is what will come first.

“Cornell has a chess club and we might be considering talking to them about doing events with them someday,” Zieger said. “It would be nice to reach out to the great Ithaca community…but the competition has a serious air to it, so it’s not something that feels like an immediate goal.”

Junior Wren Perchlik is a new member of the Chess Club, but has been a longtime fan of the game. Perchlik said he thinks chess is a good time both for those who are avid chess players and for novices.

“My pitch for playing chess would probably be that it’s really relaxing and a good way to sit down and hang out with someone for a decent amount of time,” Perchlik said. “There is a lot of thinking involved and you have to use your reasoning skills. But you can also just talk to the person and other people who might be watching. So it’s social but it’s also competitive and, in my way of playing, it’s generally pretty cool, so it’s a pretty fun time.

Zieger said part of the fun of chess is the aspect of getting to know your opponent through conversation.

“My philosophy in chess is not about winning or having the best strategy,” Zieger said. “I don’t memorize all these sorts of codes and rules, but I like to split the brain between this game that I’m working to win and also the conversation with the person across the board. I think it’s good to be multitasking where the brain is not too focused on one thing.

Freshman Daveigh Robbins said she was one of the only women in the chess club, but she said the club didn’t feel exclusive.

“I wish there were more girls there,” Robbins said. “I think I only saw one girl, but it was fun… It didn’t feel like a toxic male environment.”

Therkildsen said he is committed to Chess Club being a welcoming environment for everyone. While Therkildsen and other club leaders have lifelong ties to the game, the chess club hopes to emphasize bringing in new players.

“No matter how expert you are, you wouldn’t have been able to play chess a day in your life and we will teach you,” Therkildsen said. “We could try to make you an expert by the end of the semester.”

This article was produced with additional reporting by Sydney Brumfield.

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