Chess team checks the competition at State

The team scored the most points ever in an IHSA tournament

Arjun Thakkar

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New Trier’s chess team competed at the state tournament at the Peoria Civic Center, where they placed 4th.

Nearly 150 schools played in the championship, which took place from Feb. 10-11. The team won 6 of 7 matches, placing behind Illinois Math and Science Academy, Glenbrook North, and Whitney Young.

Assistant Coach Matthew Mersch of the Business Department, in his first year of coaching the chess team, mentioned that this year’s results were in line with an ongoing pattern for the team.

Since 2012, the team placed in the top 5 every other year. The team also scored the most points they ever have in the IHSA state tournament’s history.

The state tournament’s format allowed for each school to play their top 8 players at a time. Each team is seeded and competes with 7 opponents within their half of the seed.

Every member plays at the exact same time and location against a member of equal rank on the other team. New Trier’s team was seeded sixth.

Junior Nathan Yamaguchi said that the team was sweeping with no losses until the 5th round against Glenbrook North, who was seeded second.

“A lot of things went wrong that round. We had 3 draw offers, all of which were declined and ended up as losses for us. The end of competition tie breakers didn’t go to us either, so we missed the top three.”

For these matches each player has a clock that counts down whenever it’s their move. Each clock starts with fifty-five minutes, and if the clock hits zero, the player loses the match.

Senior Saman Taba, who won five and tied three games, said he’s proud of the team, but was also hoping to place higher.

“Everyone had worked really hard throughout the year and we were hoping to win the state title,” he said.

Taba added, “Chess is a very demanding activity which requires deep concentration and it is very difficult to keep this level of concentration throughout all of our games.”

The chess team this year includes several underclassmen, giving the team a young presence that could continue for future competitions.

First board player David Peng, a freshman, didn’t lose any games at state, and was one of five other members to receive medals at the competition.

Junior Abe Sun, a medal recipient who won 6 of his matches and tied another, described the relaxed nature of weekly practices. “Practice is normally really chill,” said Sun. “We play some music and we just play against whoever we want.”

The national competition is set to take place in May at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. With this being the final championship of his high school career, Taba is hoping to bring home a national title.

Reflecting on how the state competitors practice, Mersch was impressed with how self-driven and supportive they are.

“Even though we officially practice once a week, [the players] do a lot of practice together outside of school, preparing for the different strategies and tendencies they’ll face from different opponents.

“We were playing chess all day at this tournament, and when we got back to the hotel, they were playing even more chess. They don’t need me or anyone to tell them what to practice or study,” said Mersch.

Sun expressed similar sentiments about the team dynamic. He said, “I’ve gotten a lot more committed to the team, and I think I improved a lot just with extra experience from playing chess on a high school team rather than as an individual.”

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