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More than just a board game

by Matthew Lapierre April 11, 2017 1 comment

Exploring the intellectually-challenging game of chess

It’s exam time, or close to it, but on a Wednesday evening on the 10th floor of the Hall building, Concordia students Vlad Boshki and Andrew Kyres make time to sit across from one another to play a game of chess.

They’re both executives of the Concordia Chess Club, an organization they’re hoping to grow into a group where members who share their passion for “the game of kings” can connect and develop their chess skills and logic.

Chess originated as a board game played by the rulers of India 1,500 years ago to practice tactical and strategic thinking. Back then, chess was the game of the elite—of generals, intellectuals and royalty.

By the Middle Ages, the game had spread from India to the Middle East and made its way to the Western world. It was being played in the Arabian Peninsula, Northern Africa and Europe. Today, chess is played by men and women of all races, nationalities and social classes around the world.

At Concordia, the chess club is a small group of students and occasionally professors who meet Friday evenings on the 10th floor of the Hall building to chat, joke and play chess. The atmosphere is friendly—this is no cutthroat chess tournament. It’s an environment where chess players of all levels can improve their game and have fun.

“The skill level varies greatly. We have some who are just learning and have never played at all and we show them stuff. We also have some who come regularly, who study at home and play online,” said Boshki. “There are even some who are advanced and have ratings and go to tournaments.”

Alika Utepova is a former Concordia Chess Club executive and a current member. She’s in her fourth year of computer science and she’s passionate about chess.

“I googled ‘Concordia Chess Club’ before actually coming to Concordia,” she said. “When I first got involved in the club about four years ago, there were only two of us. We would play there on the 10th floor and people would walk by and join in.”

Utepova’s former chess partner, Wafic Alameddine, has since graduated. He was involved in the chess club while doing his masters in electrical and computer engineering at Concordia.

“We were a small group of people at the time, but the group grew in popularity as we hosted tournaments and created a Facebook page,” Alameddine said.

The Concordia Chess Club’s Facebook group has 178 members, but only a fraction of them attend the weekly chess sessions.

“There’s actually quite a few people. They’re not all regulars. If we’re all together, I think we’re like 20,” said Kyres.

Kyres, Utepova and Boshki all started playing chess at a young age. Utepova is from Kazakhstan, Boshki from Russia.

“I started when I was six,” Boshki said. “I was playing in tournaments like the Russian Open Championships. Every kid plays chess in Russia. I would say it’s a national sport.”

Here in Canada, organizations like the Chess’n Math Association, an association which teaches people to play chess, promote the game as a way for kids to develop their “personality, intellectual skills and strength of character,” according to their website.

Kyres agreed. Chess thinking, he said, helps him with his studies, since it requires the same type of thinking as some of his math and statistics classes.

“It definitely relates,” Kyres said. “It’s all logic.”

It takes years of study and practice to be good at this simple game. It takes a lifetime to master it, according to the club.

The Concordia club caters to all types of chess players: those who want to experiment with the game, and those who see it as a sport. Kyres recently competed in a tournament in Trois Rivières and won $50. He and Boshki are both looking to improve their chess skills. They’re hoping to compete in more tournaments in the future, but for them, chess is just a hobby.

Chess is frequently used as a metaphor for conflict and problem-solving. Professional boxer Lennox Lewis once compared chess to boxing. Napoleon compared it to war. Rap group the Wu Tang Clan compared chess to swordfighting. Former chess world champion Garry Kasparov even wrote a book about how chess imitates life.

Utepova sees the connection. “Both in chess and in life, it’s so easy to follow the path of least resistance, but when you challenge that attitude and try and be more proactive, you can make a lot of good things happen,” she said. “Sometimes I wish life were as simple as chess because in chess you know there is a solution. Life is more complex.”

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