By Rafi Josselson ’25
Students at TLS connect with each other in a variety of ways, including sports, fashion and television. More recently, a game dating all the way back to the 7th century CE has become a hit, both worldwide and at TLS: chess. The game has become a method for students to connect both in a strategic and competitive way.
Freshman Julia Bacanovic began playing the game this school year. She reflected on her expectations and what happened as she learned.
“Honestly, I thought [the chess elective] was going to be an extra study hall,” Bacanovic said. “But I actually learned to play chess in this class. I began with [my friend] Leora because we didn’t know how to play and we learned from seniors. Progressively I started playing with my brother a lot more and sometimes with my dad.”
Sophomore Donny Warkol has regularly played chess since he was ten. Warkol leads the chess club which meets every Thursday during Kehillah. He appreciates the game’s rise in influence.
“I think that it has been great,” Warkol said. “The game is intellectual and it takes brainpower. It is something that you need to learn. Chess is a game that is complex because it has so many pieces and so many things to do. It takes forever to master and is not even a thing that has a solved strategy.”
Bacanovic agrees with Warkol and also finds the competitive nature of the game alluring.
“Chess is a way to exercise your mind,” Bacanovic said. “It gives you satisfaction when you win. And when you lose it gives you a feeling that you want to win next time. It makes you think harder.”
Science Teacher Chris Cleaver has been a lifelong chess player and runs the chess elective during activities. Cleaver attributes the rise of chess’ popularity to a variety of cultural and social factors.
“Chess has become the zeitgeist of our time,” Cleaver said. “Zeitgeist is German for the spirit or idea of our time. I think there are a lot of concurrent factors that have come to make chess so popular. I think the forced isolation of the pandemic did a lot for chess because everyone was stuck inside, so many people learned how to play chess. I also think that a rise in chess streamers on Twitch and the release of Queen’s Gambit played a factor.”
As chess moves into the mainstream, various debates regarding how chess should be played have arisen. One of these discussions regards the platform chess is played on. Should it be played online or “over the board”?
“I think that online chess is a good way to get people into the game,” Cleaver said. “You just need to boot up your computer. I think that it’s a good way to get into the game because you get matched with some person through the powers of the internet. But it’s a different skill for playing “over the board” because the person is right there and you are trying to read them as well [as well as] trying to look at their eyes to see where they are looking on the board. There is a different skill set there.”
Chess doesn’t seem to be leaving TLS any time soon. Chess players such as Warkol are eager for more students to join them in enjoying the game.
“I think that anyone that wants to learn chess should not be afraid to start,” Warkol said. “Because chess is like other things. The first time you try it it is incredibly hard. When you look at it from the outside it doesn’t look like it would be fun. However, when you are learning it you will get sucked into it. You shouldn’t be afraid to lose games. Everyone loses. Don’t be afraid of playing against someone who is better, that is the best way to learn.”
Cleaver agrees with that message. In his opinion, chess is a game about making and then learning from mistakes.
“A blunder can undo all thirty-eight good moves that you made earlier but also it is something to learn from when you play the game later,” Cleaver said. “There is a phrase from chess, ‘with no mistake there is no brilliancy’. I think that is an interesting thing for us to meditate on.”