There are 400 different openings that are possible at the start of a game of chess. Calculating that first move intelligently and with close precision is crucial. All members on the team use different strategies to beat their opponent. Though it may not seem straining, moving pieces across a checkered black-and-white board takes mental strength, high concentration and rigorous training. So while chess does not require the physical endurance of activities like basketball, soccer or swimming, it still qualifies as a sport – a sport of the mind. Chess fits within the same category as debate, speedcubing (racing to solve a Rubik’s Cube) and backgammon.
Calculating each move with precision “To the T” within a controlled amount of time, like a pre-planned quarter of a sporting event, makes the challenge of the game even harder. All the possible moves must be determined for the player to decipher which move has the most strategic advantages. Then they must try to presume what their opponent will do next and anticipate the result, hopefully toward to their personal victory. “We train, putting in hours of [training] like any athletic sport, and we compete,” coach Paul Washington said. “The talent within the team determines the outcome. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything you do in life. Chess is no different.”
Members of a chess team are given a rank and they compete against other players locally, regionally and nationally to receive points. Wins and losses determine how highly ranked the chess player goes.
Junior Emmanuel Simmons is the highest-ranked player at Jeff High and is the team captain. When a good move becomes apparent, there is a physical reaction, he says: “My heart starts beating out of my chest, my ears start ringing, I’m looking at the move thinking, ‘This is it. This is it.’”
Similar to tennis, each win counts as a point for the individual and accumulates to either a win or a loss for the team as an entirety. The stress of a match is simulated within the team’s training.
“The heart is a muscle and if adrenaline is pumping then I’m working out a muscle,” said coach Anthony Willis. “To do that, we have trainings that we do here, drills that we put these kids through. If you lose, you lose for your entire team to get their adrenaline flying … Just like that guy playing football calling the plays, he reads the defense and puts his people in the best position to execute the play.”
Whether it gets recognized as a sport locally or not, chess has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee as a sport since 2000. The chess team at Jeff High illustrates why chess requires a level of training and focus like other athletic endeavors.
Written by Haylee Hedrick