South’s Chess Club fosters unique experiences, intellectual growth

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For some South students, learning to play chess can be a new and challenging experience. South’s Chess Club is filled with those that are passionate about fostering this unique experience for all students that may be interested in playing chess.

Juniors Bryce McClanahan and Alec Feygin are two of the chess club’s top players, and both played the game throughout their childhoods. In addition, both joined the club at GBS their freshman year.

“I played chess a lot growing up and traveled around the country played tournaments and stuff,” McClanahan said. “And I then joined in high school, even though I had stopped before.”

As for Feygin, he had been playing since the first grade and instinctively walked into his first meeting as a freshman.

“I like the community and the chair [chess players],” Feygin said. “They’re nice kids and super smart. I like being around smart people.”

Despite their prior skills from playing chess outside of school, both McClanahan and Feygin remarked on the different experience of playing with a team.

According to McClanahan, there are eight boards that play in the competitions and the best player goes to board one, and then the eighth best player goes to board eight, with each board worth a certain amount of points. When two teams play each other, McClanahan explains that the person on each board plays the opposing team’s player on the same board number.

Contributing to the success of the team and club are coaches Michael Boyle and Steven Szpisjak. A tutor in the Titan Learning Center, Szpisjak is a nationally-ranked chess player, otherwise known as a National Master, which gives the club members added benefits in learning new moves.

“[Szpisjak] is a National Master, which is a pretty big title,” Feygin said. “He usually helps out the lower boards, he teaches them openings, different tactics, different strategies. And it helps them out because a win at board 8 is important. He stresses to make the entire team as good as possible.”

According to Szpisjak, earning his title of National Master was not an easy task, but rather a long and arduous process that took him from sixth grade until college to achieve a high enough rating of over 2,200 points.

“You have to get a certain number of points for the U.S. Chess Federation, and everybody has a rating, and you have to do well enough in rating events to get your rating that high,” Szpisjak said. “The higher the rating, the harder it is to get the points.”

According to Szpisjak, chess has nearly always been a part of his life, and especially continues to be today.

“When I was in high school, I was a three-time state chess champion and my brother formed a chess club,” Szpisjak said.  “I was one year behind him so it has been a part of my life since I was a teenager.”

Boyle, Szpisjak’s counterpart in coaching the chess club, is responsible for bringing the club to life at South in the year 1995.

“I started the chess club back in 1995 once I found out that there was a group of kids that wanted to play,” Boyle said.  “We started playing in the old math lab with one wooden chess set that a kid brought from home.  We played very informally for about two years until Dan Hicks and Ken Doody joined the staff at GBS.  They were very instrumental in expanding it from a club to a team and getting us into the North Shore Chess League to compete against other schools in the area.

Szpisjak has been around to see some of the greatest triumphs of the club, as well as witness many memorable experiences. In his second year coaching the team, they beat Main South in the conference round and then lost to New Trier at state.

To this day, the chess club has continued to grow and prosper, succeeding in many different conference and state tournaments. As for this year, Szpisjak is hopeful for what the team will be able to accomplish.

“We have the conference championship, and then the state championship [not so long] after that,” Szpisjak said. “We’re a pretty good team, [so] we’re probably in the second tier. With a little bit of luck, we could go all the way. So we’ll see what happens.”

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