Pawn among Queen’s

The Journal investigates sports you can play inside

The Queen’s Chess Club meets weekly on Tuesdays.
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“People say it’s a game of kings […] You’re playing with the idea of making judgments, making sacrifices. And myself, I particularly prefer to just do weird things with it. It’s what I prefer.”

Check.

It’s 9 p.m. in the BioSci auditorium (in the time before social distancing) and I’m playing chess against Chess Club vice-president Tan Guo. Guo won the Canadian University Chess Championship last year, and the Pan-Americans, too. We’ve just started and I’m on the ropes.

“Chess is kind of unapproachable, because skill level is a huge thing, right? If you’re going to play somebody who’s better than you are, you’re guaranteed to lose almost every single time is what it feels like.” Guo takes my rook.

“But it really is not. It’s really not about winning [...] Everybody’s there to have a good time, right? Nobody’s there to explicitly win every single game on that night and go back home with the prize money which doesn’t exist.” Guo puts me in check again.

There are only about six people here, but it’s rainy out and it’s not being held in the ARC like normal because of a scheduling snafu, apparently there’s usually at least a dozen people.

“Sometimes I feel like chess is a kind of cosmic coincidence, where you’re like, ‘Oh, these pieces are on two completely unrelated spots, and they just happen to work by sheer coincidence,’” Guo muses.

That’s not the sentiment I received from Tyler Keung, who I played earlier.

“I won a couple games earlier by pure fluke,” I told Keung, who had just beaten me in fewer than two minutes.

“There’s no such thing as fluke,” he absently rejoined as we set up the board again.

Well, I mean, there could be fate, and then there’s coincidence, I replied.

“No such thing. Skill. All skill.” We started again, this time without a timer so I would be less embarrassed.

“Oh, the English [opening],” he notes. “I always see Magnus Carlsen play this game.” I’m no Magnus Carlsen (Norwegian chess grandmaster), and in less than a minute my little army is decimated.

It’s Keung’s first time at Chess Club, but he had taken chess lessons as a kid. I asked him why he came back to the game. “It’s just good to get the mind thinking about possible positions, get in your opponent’s head. See what they’re thinking [...] It’s all about just thinking ahead.”

Keung handily defeats me again, and I go on to play Kieran McConnell, who’s completing a dual major in physics and economics.

“My brain has to be on a lot. So [chess is] a pastime that kind of keeps your brain on, but also isn’t really school. So it’s easy to just transition back into studying.”

We’re more evenly matched, we trade a couple pieces, and the game spreads across the board. He castles quickly and concentrates his pieces along the right side.

“[I try to] form geometries within certain regions of the board that I’ve deemed to be concerning […] Just an easier way to whittle it down to math in my eyes.”

McConnell tells me about how physics breaks down below the Schwarzschild radius, and a book he just finished reading about quantum finance. “It’s pretty crazy.” He leaves a rook hanging, I nab it and eventually take the game.

Guo tells me more about his Club, how they’re always looking for new members, and what they’re planning next. “We’ve been trying to get ourselves into the pub as well. So yeah, drinking, playing chess sounds like a great idea, what can possibly go wrong?”

“We’re all just here to have a good time, we’re just here to hang out.” He’s not kidding—there’s lots of laughter and people kidding around, it’s a relaxed atmosphere. Not so on the board. Tan smelled blood.

“I learned to not play with my food anymore,” Guo says to himself. Checkmate.

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