The Chess Club competed in their annual SPC tournament on Saturday, finding themselves in continuous close matches. Though the competition managed to find an edge over them, leading to a 6th place finish, the team’s mental game managed to become a high point of the day.
Leading up to SPC, the team had been preparing through biweekly practices and matches. According to junior Alexander Das, the focus on strategy has been especially useful.
“Many of the top players find ways to gain an early advantage through really tricky opening patterns. It is impossible to know them all, but the more positions you get familiar with, the better you are at recognizing traps and strategies being used against you,” Das added.
Junior Allison Mersman said that beyond the strategic aspect of chess, perseverance and focus are critical to tournaments like SPC, which can last for nearly eight hours.
“I really want to be able to focus. I have a hard time focusing because I get very bad headaches while playing,” Mersman said. “But IHSA has denied letting me wear headphones to combat this.”
Head Coach Kurt Gulbro said that despite the tough competition, he felt the team was well equipped to find success.
“For SPC, a tournament with four games where you’re playing eight hours of chess a day, it’s all about how you keep mentall focused,” Gulbro added. “How do you keep sharp? How do you respond when something goes wrong — if they take your queen and you’re [flustered], do you just quit?”
Out of their four rounds, East won two of its matches with several close games. According to Mersman, playing such long hours after a year of online play was a change some players are still adjusting to.
“Because of competitions being so weird last year, many of us don’t have the stamina for long competitions anymore,” Mersman added.
Senior Tyler Thavong added that he had to reevaluate his mental approach after finding himself unprepared in his first game.
“[In some games] I was surprised at the opening but I came back to my wits. I just developed, stayed calm, used my time, and attacked weakness,” Thavong said. “It’s hard to be a team in a single-player game: we get caught up on previous losses or a mistake. Instead, we have to keep moving on.”
According to junior Rohan Cherukuri, SPC proved to be a bonding experience for the team and also offered needed preparation for the sectional competition next weekend.
“I think that playing live chess after so much online, and this being a number of our players’ first in-person tournament, we can definitely grow for later,” Cherukuri said.
Gulbro said that he remains hopeful for the upcoming sectional and state tournaments, citing the team’s desire to learn and practice as critical to their success.
“At state, we finished 91st our first year as a program and 41st last year,” Gulbro added. “I’d like to finish above that, and if we can get into the top 30s or top 40s, that’ll be a big win.”
Cherukuri added that, above all, the team will be focusing on strategy and prioritizing concentration to set themselves up for a state bid.
“The main thing that we want to focus on as a team is to not lose sight during a game,” Cherukuri said. “Staying focused during the game, even if you are taking a break, is critical.”
Aryav Bothra is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl