Chess players flock to tournament

Competitors from Macalester College and the University competed in Saturday’s tournament.

Anna Weggel

When Ben Suri and Bridgette Goulet started the University Chess Club last year, they didn’t expect the membership to grow exponentially in just one semester.

Since February 2003, the group has grown from three members to 253 members. On Saturday, many of the club members participated in the University’s intercollegiate chess tournament at Coffman Union.

The University undergraduate team, If Rooks Could Kill, won the tournament. University student Jorge Samper Zelaya took the individual title.

Competitors from Macalester College in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota played in the event.

Chess players carefully plotted their moves with intense grimaces and focused eyes in the completely silent tournament room.

“A lot of people just look for a place to hang out on Wednesday nights,” Suri said. “The atmosphere is very relaxed – a place for people to come and shoot the breeze.”

Suri said that aside from an already large demand for a campus chess club, club members print 200 fliers a week and place them all over campus to attract prospective members.

Suri said the club gains approximately 15 people each week.

“The club has really taken off,” he said. “I would love for it to keep growing.”

One of the main attractions of the club is that there is no membership fee because the Loring Pasta Bar sponsors it, Suri said.

“It doesn’t cost anything to be on our chess team,” he said. “We pretty much accept anyone who wants to play competitively.”

Suri said that although the club meetings are more relaxed, competitions can be intense.

“Chess can get pretty competitive,” he said. “It becomes a way to release energy. Everyone wants to win no matter what you’re doing.”

Bridgette Goulet, co-founder of the group, started a community outreach program within the Chess Club.

In the program, group members partake in after-school programs at various grade schools, teaching the students how to play chess.

“It was amazing,” Goulet said. “(The grade school students) are superfanatical about it.”

Goulet said playing chess is such an intellectual game that it helps children to develop important skills early in life.

“They can relax, have fun and learn at the same time,” she said.

Goulet said many different people drop by group meetings weekly, including professors and even young children who want to brush up on their skills.

One regular attendee is “Little Hustler,” a 12-year-old son of a University professor, who “wipes the floor” with decisive wins over college players, Goulet said.

Beyond studying various openings, tactics, positions and strategies, club President Zack Tverstol said, the club simply plays a lot of chess.

“That’s definitely a strategy, because the more you play, the more you’ll learn,” he said.

Tverstol said the people in the club make playing chess more enjoyable for him. But to many people, chess can be more than just a game, he said.

“Chess can help you with almost any aspect of thinking or planning,” he said.