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Popular Pawns

     “Knight to C6,” Wylder Tonkin (’23) barked at Finn Meehan (’23). In that moment, Meehan recognized his solemn fate. His face began to get hot, sweat beading off his forehead. Tonkin’s knight swept across the board surrounding Meehan’s king. It was all over now. “Checkmate!” Tonkin said. Meehan had not only been crushed in the game of chess, but his social life would never be the same. The bell rang and students flocked into the classroom as Meehan fell to his knees in defeat. Tonkin laughed, towering over him. “That’s right. 720, Meehan,” Tonkin said, referring to his chess score.

     Here at Oyster River High School (ORHS), the game of chess is booming in popularity, and many students have found themselves indulging in the sport. While I might not be able to tell you why chess became so popular at ORHS, I can vouch that many students practice the pawns during their free time in class. Just a simple turn of the head and you will probably see someone with pulled up on their computer monitor.

     Some students, like Meehan, think chess has become popular at ORHS because of its competitive and logistical nature. On, those who play the game will receive a chess score. The Elo rating system was created by physics professor and chess master, Arpad Elo. Implemented in 1960, it was invented to improve how the United States Chess Federation (USCF) measured the players’ skills.

     “[Elo scores] are like your chess rating. They’re based off wins, losses, and overall intelligence. It’ll change game-to-game [based on] wins and losses,” Curtis Leitz (‘23) said.

     For some, chess has been a quick escape from the school day. “I think it’s a great game. I play it pretty frequently, sometimes while I’m actually supposed to be doing my work, but I do tend to play it in my free time,” Tonkin said.

     Some students, like Tam Goodine (‘23), don’t particularly understand the hype around the game of chess. “I think it’s a pretty interesting game,” he said. “I’m really surprised about how popular it is here—I don’t really understand it […] but I think it could be something that gets even bigger here,” Goodine added.

     Nonetheless, the trend continues. Students have been seen using the school laptops, desktops, and their phones to play the game. “I just play on,” Tonkin said. “I think I started playing it during Covid,” he added.

     Along with Tonkin, many stu dents picked up habits during the pandemic, such as chess, but not everyone reached chess master status. “I’m not very good, but it’s a distraction,” Meehan said. “I usually just play with random people online, but sometimes with my friends,” he said.

     Whether it is played as a distraction, or to master the checkered board, the game of chess has managed to take over the senior class at ORHS. What this means for the future of chess players at ORHS is uncertain.

     You’d think this would mean good things for the Chess Club at ORHS. With students becoming more interested in chess, this may be an opportunity for the club to expand its membership. Advised by English teacher Marjke Yatsevitch, the club is welcoming members of any and all skill levels to practice, learn, and challenge one another. Meeting on Wednesdays after school from 3:00-4:00 in Yatsevitch’s room (T106), it seems as though some students have reserved the school day as their chess time.

     Meehan agrees, and thinks that chess is more of an in-school hobby. “I can’t join the Chess Club because I have a lot of other things to do.”

     Leitz agrees with Meehan. “I play chess when there’s nothing better to do. Sometimes [I play] in class to waste time but still do something [challenging].”

     But Leitz and Meehan aren’t the only ones who aren’t considering joining the Chess Club. Tonkin said, “I’m a busy man. If it was during the school day, maybe I would [join].” So, maybe now I can tell you why chess has become so popular. Students at ORHS have found a unique and brain-challenging way to tackle their boredom in school.

     Whether or not this will affect the future of students’ academic engagement is unknown.

– Ava Gruner

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