The thriving chess club in the Zoom era – The Williams Record

A Wednesday night of nostalgic nostalgia–

Blue-black in autumnal happiness.

Here you hear a voice calling

“come and play chess!”, and that’s it:

Chess club tonight from 9am to 10.30am @ Eco café, everyone is welcome, no experience necessary! Newcomers/beginners/people who want to learn how to play are especially encouraged to come!

Ren leads a presentation of one of his games during a Zoom meeting. (Photo courtesy of William Ren ’21.)

Students looking for the most pandemic-resistant activity, look no further – Chess Club has you covered. The need for social distancing has forced many clubs to adopt new measures, as they are unable to hold in-person meetings or participate in high-contact games and training. Chess Club, however, managed to avoid these problems.

“I was really surprised how many people came to our first meeting…it’s more than most years,” said William Ren ’21, president of the Chess Club. “[I] I felt like there were a lot of features in Zoom that could be better for Chess Club rather than in person.

The club has taken advantage of the multitude of online chess platforms such as Lichess and which allow members to play against a live opponent online. These websites also offer new game modes where players can play alternative chess variants with different rules. A Chess Club favorite is the bughouse, where players compete in teams of two and pass captured pieces to their teammate for use.

According to Ren, club meetings have a random element, with activities ranging from spontaneous games to chess advice from the club president himself. Going online was something of a blessing in disguise, allowing online chess variants that couldn’t be replicated in person and giving veterans the chance to come and test their skills. Ren also hopes to potentially invite members of the Williamstown community to join in the future.

In addition to these informal meetings, Chess Club also helps organize events such as tournaments and volunteer activities (including teaching chess at a local elementary school). While the pandemic has made things more difficult, the club has participated in numerous United States Chess Federation (USCF) national tournaments in the past where members compete against chess players of all ages, all backgrounds and all skill levels. Ren says he plans to reach out to his Amherst counterpart at some point to hopefully plan a virtual competition, though the idea is still in the works.

One of Chess Club’s constants are Ren’s weekly emails, which he sends weekly to his Listserv of 340 members. From poems to random jokes, the emails serve as a creative manifestation of all that makes the club special. “I love playing chess,” Ren said. “I love sharing about it. I love teaching people about it because it has brought so much joy to my life.

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