By Todd Andrews, Chess Team Coach
When we dove headfirst into our current situation in March, every major league sport had to be suspended, the Olympics were canceled, and only one sport had the ability to transition immediately to a virtual setting: chess.
The COVID-19 outbreak left the 2020 World Championship Candidates event as the only remaining major league sport to watch. However, The Fédération Internationale des Échecs, which governs international chess competition, interrupted the event at the half-way point and has now rescheduled the event that will determine the next challenger to the World Champion Magnus Carlsen until, at the earliest, next spring.
Those skeptical of the physically challenging, sporting characteristics of a "mind sport," such as chess, should check out this article by ESPN and the study conducted by Stanford University where they found that world class, chess players burn three times of their daily caloric intake during a single game, where they are sitting nearly the entire time.
So chess never had to leave. All sorts of new events popped up left and right, combining the easy conversion from over-the-board events to online events. It appears now that it has been sort of a second "Fischer boom" in American chess, bringing all sorts of new players into the game, because of the downtime at home coupled with the already well-established, virtual community in the game. The United States saw a huge uptick in the popularity of chess in 1972, amidst the Cold War with the USSR, when Bobby Fischer bested World Champion Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland.
University School of Nashville Students have been at the forefront of this sport on a scholastic level locally, statewide, and nationally for decades now. The commitment of its team members, their parents, and the school is the staple of what it takes to be a successful team. My sister, Coach Tiffany, and I cleared out the chess trophies from the school to help free up space and get the scholars back into USN in August, and it took two vehicles to get all of the now recycled awards out of the school. However, our team is seeing to it that the supplies are replenished.
The majority of team events in chess take your Top-4 players (out of as big of a field of team members you choose to bring), add their scores together out of 5.0 possible points (1.0 for a win, 0.5 for a draw and a goose egg for a loss), and then rank teams according to the total amount of accumulated points. There are other head-to-head team events where the Top-4 players from, say USN, face off against the Top-4 from Harding Academy with board 1 from our team facing off vs. board 1 of their team, board 2 vs board 2, etc. Whoever gets 2.5 wins out of 4.0 wins, but other than the Chess Olympiad (also canceled in 2020), there are not many big events locally or internationally organized with this team-vs.-team atmosphere. It's more like you just toss all your soldiers into the crowd with tons of teams, and whoever's Top-4 walk out on top wins.
Chess does have its own separate Olympic event called the Chess Olympiad, because despite various efforts, the International Olympic Committee and FIDE have never been able to come to terms on holding chess as an official Olympic sport. Many surmise that it could have something to do with the anti-doping rules and stringent requirements of the IOC. I am sure most chess players have caffeine levels that are near lethal, yet alone satisfactory to the IOC. After the Summer Olympics, then Winter Olympics, the Chess Olympiad can boast the most diverse number of different countries represented in 2018. Some 180 different countries sent a team in the men's event and 146 countries in the women's event.
USN is the only squad even sending a Top-4 team right now. This accomplishment has made it easy for the USN K-9 Junior High Team to win the first two team events of the school year. The team of our new freshman, yet cagey chess vet, William Ostroski combined with stallworth eighth-graders Stewart Hall and Evan Hauser finished 1.5 points ahead of Montgomery Bell Academy in the first event. A full-player team of the three aforementioned players plus freshman Robiya Sahibnazarova and LS wunderkind Matthew Golann '29, "playing up" with the older kids, bested the second-place team by 4.5 points in event No. 2.
These online qualifiers are determining who the six qualifiers will be for the 2021 Nashville City Championship, slated to take place next January at the Nashville Chess Center. In Event No. 1 (of three total), Matthew won first place with an undefeated 4.5/5 and stamped his ticket into the city championship. In the High School Section, Kunaal Saggi '21 finished in second place with 4/5 and also advanced to the City (only the Top-2 make it in each division). Robiya qualified for the 2021 All-Girls City Championship.
We were happy to see K-6 players Krish Nachnani '28 and Ishaan Nachnani '28 representing USN and hope to see more members of the squad joining them in the final event of this semester. This team would have surely sat on top if their Board 1 were not playing on the Junior High team having already qualified for the City.
On Saturday, October 17, USN students battled online for the Tennessee K-12 State Championship from last school year. Our final events during the 2019-2020 year were the regional qualifying events where the Top-8 in each group advanced to the state. High schoolers are actually competing to win full scholarships to Tennessee Tech (the main sponsor). The second-place finisher wins a half-scholarship to the university.
In the K-3 division, Matthew came in second place in the state with 4/5. Stewart finished sixth overall and Evan was 11th in the Junior High. Kunaal finished third in the state in High School. This was an individual event only with no team element.
We have one final event this semester on Saturday, November 14 to determine the remaining city championship qualifiers and who the next team champions will be. It will be held virtually using ChessKid.com. The NCC also holds a weekly event every Friday at 4:30 p.m. that is free to any K-12 student to participate and includes prizes.
We are proud of the USN chess squad for never stopping, always being present, and representing the school soundly no matter what the medium.