Howard students host a nightly chess game to raise funds for the competition


As the evening sky darkened in the courtyard of Howard University, members of the school’s chess club deployed a parachute-sized board on the historic lawn.

Players carefully placed large plastic pieces that glowed red and blue in the night before standing on opposite sides of the large chessboard to strategize how to capture the opposing king. The neon blue represented the white pieces, the red the black ones.

Small robots delivering food crisscrossed the sidewalks. Students carrying rucksacks strode through the center of campus, while a small group sang African lyrics to Ghanaian and Nigerian songs to ancient beats pounded on an apentemma drum and a Dawuro bell, which resembles a church bell. cow.

At the start of the contest, Howard Chess Club President Malik Castro-DeVarona swung a bishop to take the queenside knight from his opponent Lloyd Davis.

“First Blood!” Castro-DeVarona said. Davis quickly retaliated with a move from his queen to take on the intruding bishop. The handful of club members who watched shouted “Woo!” as Davis knocked the piece off the board.

“So that’s how it is, huh?” It’s like that, huh? Castro-DeVarona responded.

Wednesday night’s game was a friendly game, but played in public for a specific purpose: to bring attention to the school’s small chess club, both to increase membership and to launch a funding to help the group compete in an intercollegiate competition in January.

Being able to compete and win games is most important, but their entry also means a lot, club officials say.

“One thing we’re really proud to be is the only HBCU chess club that has competed in the last few years,” said Castro-DeVarona, a 20-year-old political science student from Los Angeles. “Last time we were there, we were the only all-black team in the tournament.”

“We try to go out there and really show ourselves,” he said. “It’s the largest competitive collegiate chess congregation we have. We definitely feel like we’re representing a lot of people when we’re there.

Club officials want to send an A team and a B team to compete in the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship in early January, Castro-DeVarona said. The team launched an online fundraiser to reach a goal of $9,000 to pay eight players to travel to Seattle.

The decades-old competition is expected to attract more than 100 schools for the three-day event, which includes a tournament, career fair and workshops designed to help students after graduation, Brad said. Tenenholtz, owner of the Corporate Esports Association, the host of the tournament. .

“We try to offer students something beyond chess,” Tenenholtz said.

Beyond fundraising, the Wednesday night public games were designed to attract new members. The Howard Chess Club has existed on and off throughout the school’s history, Castro-DeVarona said, but has only about a dozen members who meet on Monday and Wednesday nights each week.

Pandemic boredom and a Netflix show, “The Queen’s Gambit,” have reignited a love of the game for Davis, a senior political science major who played Castro-DeVarona in the opener. The Rochester, NY native learned the game from his parents as a child, but now finds the weekly sessions important for fueling his competitive side.

“I was able to meet people and spend time with friends; I slowly but surely improved. I have to play faster times,” Davis said.

Wednesday The outdoor night game set was donated by Jamaal Abdul-Alim, a longtime chess writer and journalist who served as an informal advisor to club members to help bring attention to their existence and their Fund raising.

“Sometimes people don’t even know there’s a chess club here. It is important to invest in chess players,” said Abdul-Alim, who has been covering chess since 2005. “They have a solid game. I’ve been in quite a few games where I thought I was winning, and they showed me otherwise.

Abdul-Alim, said he covered a “last four” of collegiate failures. The January competition would help Howard qualify. The club won their section the last time they competed

“It’s to chess what March Madness is to basketball,” Abdul-Alim said. “It’s important. It’s probably the only historically black college and university represented at this tournament.

“We wish it were otherwise.”

Abdul-Alim said he was impressed with the dedication shown by the club and how the members have grown as players and as a team by inviting a chess master to speak to the club and help them. to learn.

“It’s a serious club,” Abdul-Alim said. “They are looking to prove themselves in the chess world and play at the highest possible level.”

Wednesday night’s match ended when Castro-DeVarona moved his queen to C7 and cornered his opponent’s king. Davis conceded defeat.

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