Chess tournament: the Universal Game


Eyes dart from piece to piece, searching for the right move and anticipating the opponent’s response. Junior Dennisse Alcivar sucks on her caramel frappuccino. Sophomore Andrew Villegas rhythmically pats his leg. Senior Vy Trinh’s eyes follow those who pass by her table. Freshman David Sanchez dances two pawns around his fingers. It’s Tuesday night—Chess Club night.

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Denisse Alcazar strategizes her next moves as Morgan Rothschadl slides one of her pawns on the board.

Every Tuesday at 7 p.m., students meet at two tables in between the Siverson Lounge and the student mailboxes. On a typical night, there are between seven and ten students in attendance.

Sam Ogdie, a Spanish professor, started this club about 20 years ago. Over the years, Ogdie has seen players “develop a special bond with each other,” even if they don’t talk much during their games.

Villegas agrees. 

“I have seen those who participate get to know others in the club and have meaningful conversations with them outside regular club meetings,” he said. “Most importantly, however, I think you can know a person better once you play chess with them, and I think this sport makes people get closer.”

Ogdie said the biggest obstacle he has faced has been attracting new members. 

“I think Augie students have a hard time scheduling one hour a week to anything beyond their studies,” Ogdie said.

 The number of participants fluctuates from year to year, but Ogdie is pleased with this year’s student leadership. Trinh, Villegas and Ryan Stiles are co-presidents this year.

“Each week, students become more confident in their game, which gives them a general confidence in themselves,” Ogdie said.

Villegas’s co-president position has helped him as a person. 

“This leadership role has helped me develop healthier time-management skills so I can do stuff outside academics and work and has helped me improve my communication skills,” he said. 

On this wintry April night, Trinh and Sanchez play a few games before taking out the timer. They each have five minutes to make their moves for the whole game. The first few moves take less than a blink of an eye to decide on and execute. Others take at least a minute.

Villegas and Alcivar play casually, discussing strategy between moves. Alcivar is a less-experienced player, so Villegas does his best to show her where she should move. Eric Fajgl watches them play. He also has less experience than Villegas, so he listens intently as Villegas gives Alcivar advice. This continues until Alcivar leaves to study.

Next, it’s Fajgl’s turn to face Villegas. The game between the experienced sophomore and the inexperienced freshman lasts 76 minutes.

While Fajgl and Villegas are nonchalantly battling it out, Trinh and Sanchez are playing game after game. This is how a typical night at Chess Club goes: students coming and going, playing a game or ten, no one knowing who will show up tonight, but always smiling for all who wish to join.

Players want the rest of campus to know that everyone is welcome at Chess Club. 

“The club welcomes all students of all levels in chess,” Trinh says. “Some students actually never played chess before but wanted to learn. They now can actually play pretty well.”

Chess club comprises people from all over the world— from Ecuador to Norway, Venezuela, Vietnam and California. 

“Chess is a universal game and can be played anywhere in the world with people that don’t necessarily speak the same language,” Ogdie said.

There are some stereotypes about chess that Chess Club members want to put to rest.

“I think one of the stereotypes is that you have to be really good at math in order to play chess,” Trinh says. “However, I myself [am] not that good at math. Chess does require tactics and clear logics, but it doesn’t directly [involve] any math knowledge.”

Villegas said that chess is not boring. 

“Only those who play are blessed with knowing how fun it is,” he says. “There’s a stereotype that only ‘weirdos’ play this sport, but people might be surprised at the great number of players from different backgrounds, tastes and beliefs.”

He welcomes all students to chess tournaments as well, where they hope to get more people involved with the sport. 

“We aim at getting more people interested,” Villegas said. “[We want to make people think] ‘Wow, some others are playing and actually having fun. I should give it a try.’”

Their last tournament was held on April 10 in the Commons where they competed from 5 to 9 p.m. There were two categories: one competitive and one recreational. 

Students and professors played alongside each other, scanning the board and racing to hit their clocks. On display, were a table full of trophies for the winners. 

After four hours of quiet concentration, Villegas won first place, followed by mathematics professor Dr. Carl Olimb in second, and junior Ryan Stiles coming in third.

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