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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

W(ho)TF are those guys playing chess in the Grille?

Few people may have actually known this, but it turns out Grinnell has a chess club.

“I’m not a very good advertiser,” Andy Applebaum ’10, leader of the group, said. Applebaum was mildly self-deprecating when discussing the success of the club during his four years at Grinnell, saying that just before he became a student here the club was more “legitimate”.
But Applebaum, who started playing chess in the first grade, has proved to be a much better advertiser than he gives himself credit for, simply by deciding to move club meetings from the bowels of Noyce into the heart of campus—the Grille. “More or less I bring my sets and sit here basically, and then everybody shows up to play chess,” Applebaum said.

It’s a metaphorical chessboard of dreams—and people of all experience levels are coming. “I came out of a work shift and he was playing chess and I was like, ‘whoa’” said Michael Dougherty ’12, one of the newer and somewhat less-experienced members of the club. “I’m really bad and they’re just sort of fostering me.”

Not only is the location prime for attracting new knights and passing closet chess enthusiasts, but, contrary to popular stereotypes about chess, the lively environment of the grille is quite conducive to chess. “I actually find it stifling to play in silence,” Jon Rissing ’10 said, who, when not playing in the grille, opts to listen to music or play in Cleveland lounge.

Predilection for noise isn’t the chess club’s only quirk—the group started to gain attention this year largely thanks to Jacob Gjesdahl ’10’s half-naked body. “Whenever I’m hot I don’t wear a shirt,” Gjesdahl said. “The thing is that most people are better than me at playing chess and so it’s very intimidating and so I have to concentrate and it’s nerve wracking and it’s hard and so you sweat in those kinds of situations. So there’s no point in wearing a shirt and being sweaty.”

The clothing-optional club meets Wednesday nights outside of the Grille from around 8 p.m. onward to engage in “blitz chess” (approximately ten minute long games in which each player is limited to five minutes of playing time—also called “doing speed”) and “skittles,” the universally accepted term—of unknown origin—for casual chess games. “Maybe they used to play for bags of Skittles,” Andrew Howard ’12 said. “Maybe Skittles are named after it,” Dougherty said.

Names are actually a key aspect of chess culture. “Over the years the language has developed to make it more appealing,” Applebaum said. Since there are only so many possible opening moves in a game, they have all been named and documented in various chess anthologies—and the members of chess club are able to recreate them with impressive speed. Favorites include the “the fried liver attack” and “the cabbage”, more for their name’s whimsicality than their overall efficiency.

While Applebaum notes a disappointing decline in chess enthusiasm—citing the rise in technology-based diversions such as computers and gaming systems as one possible factor—members said quirks such as code names are not the only reason modern chess has remained the classic intellectual pastime for close to seven centuries. “It’s something you can never really stop learning how to do,” Rissing said, “That’s why it’s still interesting.”

On the real world game board where technology reigns, Applebaum points out what may be the most exciting aspect of chess. “It’s still not solved yet by computers,” he said.

Join chess club in keeping technology in check. They meet Wednesdays at 8 p.m. outside of the Grille and will be holding their first tournament this weekend Saturday and Sunday from 1:30-4:30 in JRC 225 and 226—just show up!

—additional reporting by Jumi Bello

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