Published: Monday, November 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
On Nov. 8, a dozen participants faced off in the first chess tournament at Boston College in recent memory.
A quick Internet search of “Boston College Chess Club” reveals that such an organization did previously exist. A photograph taken by Gary Gilbert, now collected in the University Archives, portrays members playing chess on a sunny Student Activities Day in 1988. The club even had its own webpage, created in October 1996.
Sixteen years later, Gilbert is now the director of photography at the Office of Marketing Communications. The club’s website was removed in January of 2004 when the organization became defunct.
In the same world where Webster University had recently paid exorbitant sums to convince top-ranked Texas Tech’s chess coach and team members to transfer, it seemed almost foolish to believe that, for close to a decade, no one at BC stepped up to fill the void.
The improbable situation perpetuated itself until 2011, when several students almost simultaneously decided to act. “I was away studying abroad in England,” said the organization’s vice president, Andrew Meigs, A&S ’13. “I had started the paperwork beforehand, then I come back, and the Student Programs Office tells me somebody else had already started doing it.”
That “somebody” was current president Molly Pekula, A&S ’13, with whom Meigs eagerly joined forces. They also worked with Dan Friedman, A&S ’13, now the club’s treasurer.
“Since we started meeting in the second semester of last year, all of the money had already been allotted,” Pekula said.
“We had our first meeting without chessboards,” said Meigs, whose father coached a high school club. Meigs made sure to bring a dozen boards to the next meeting.
This year, however, the club’s budget has been approved, so the leadership is optimistic about new developments.
“One of our goals is to do more in the Boston community,” Meigs said, referring to schools such as Boston University and Northeastern University. “Eventually we can organize the Beanpot of chess.”
“We’d like to have a human chess game on the lawn in front of Bapst, with people as the chess pieces,” Pekula said. “But we’d need a lot of people for that.” That number is at least 32, to be exact, or twice the club’s current active membership.
“Getting started, it wasn’t too hard to find people,” said Pekula, who had learned to play just last year. “I talked to some of my friends, who introduced their friends.” Now, meetings are steadily attended by 15-20 students each week, though all except the president and future secretary are male.
“No club’s fun if it’s just one gender,” Pekula acknowledged, “so that’s definitely something we’re working to improve.”
This year’s tournament is one way the club hopes to attract new members. “It’s a fun way to shake up the meetings, making the atmosphere more competitive,” Meigs said.
Pekula prided her organization on being one of the more relaxing clubs on campus. “Playing chess is great stress relief, something to take your mind off homework and other stress factors, regardless of your skill level.” She emphasized that students should never allow a lack of experience or talent to deter them from attending.
The same relaxed standards that make a club enjoyable can also be costly for a tournament, however, even if a prize was offered. “There were some people who signed up and didn’t end up coming,” Meigs said. Others arrived but were unable to participate due to schedule conflicts.
Still, the first day of the Swiss-style tournament progressed smoothly. Twelve students of varying abilities and vibrant personalities engaged in two rounds of focused play, and most games finished in less than 20 minutes. Due to time constraints, it was determined that the final round would be played the following week.
“As an extremely new club on campus, organizing an event for the first time, we are very satisfied with the turnout,” Friedman said.
In the second week, however, progress was stalled when the only two undefeated players, James Kim, A&S ’15, and Kevin Savage, A&S ’13, were both unable to attend for their final battle.
Still, the club has reason for optimism, if simply because the game of chess is a uniting force in itself. “Chess is a universal language,” Meigs said. “It’s cool to meet people in all walks of life, across the whole world, who share the same passion.”
In particular, he referred to a professor who was in Gasson Hall for the day to give a presentation in the adjacent room. In his youth, the professor had been the French champion for his age group. During the tournament, he surprised everyone by entering to speak of his own love for the game, and played a game of speed chess with Meigs.