Chicago High Schooler Creates Chess Documentary
- Written by Sam Goldman Sam Goldman
- Published: 17 August 2017 17 August 2017
Seniors at the Latin School of Chicago have an opportunity to learn through non-traditional means by completing a senior project focused on their individual passions.
To some students that meant designing a (computerized) virtual reality experience, to others it meant exploring molecular gastronomy, creating a wilderness survival video, or dispelling stereotypes of rap music.
When presented with this opportunity, I immediately knew that mine would somehow revolve around my passion of chess.
To my three friends and I, this rare patch of free time, the last month of the school year, allowed us the freedom to take our chess boards out to the streets of Chicago. We showed others what makes the age-old game so special - and learned from others about their own passion for the game.
Let me back up one moment: During our sophomore year, three of my buddies and I had found what was evidently the one chess board in our school, hidden in the history office on the top floor of the venerable building.
Every free period, we met in the history office to compete in chess. Eventually we became bored of the one lonely board, so we sought to expand our school’s chess culture.
After creating the chess club -- and obtaining more boards -- chess began to flood the school. There were boards in the library, cafeteria, hallways, offices, and classrooms. For our first tournament, over 50 people signed up, and the championship blitz match was held at an assembly in front of the entire school. Eventually, our chess club turned into a chess team which competed against other schools and in the prestigious state tournament.
So it was only natural that when May of our senior years came around, we would focus on chess. We'd become acclimated to traditional scholastic play, but with our project, we wanted to explore chess as others played it. From Millennium Park, to outside Wrigley Field, to the famous Chess Pavilion on the lakefront, we interacted with, played against, and documented the experiences of street chess players from across Chicago.
Our final project was a video, so an article may not do it justice. But I'll try.
We began our project by practicing against each other, playing online, watching videos (specifically Kevin from thechesswebsite.com), and studying openings and endgames. As we took to the streets, we didn’t know what to expect with regards to the skill levels of Chicagoans in public settings.
Finally, we were prepared to make our stand and hit the streets.
We began on Michigan Avenue, then hit Wrigley Field multiple times, and then the North Avenue Chess Pavilion.
Although not many people approached at first, passersby's seemed to notice our makeshift stand. Alas, they mostly just smiled and continued on their way.
Eventually, people did stop. The three main groups of people who joined us were excited kids and their parents, people interested learning more about what we were doing, and people who play chess merely occasionally but nevertheless enjoy the game.
Perhaps our favorite encounter was with a passing National Master. Along with his friends, he saw our stand and -- despite being in a rush -- decided to play a blitz game. He gained a significant amount of material and my friend was forced to tip his king in resignation.
After watching this game we knew he was a very strong player. Convincing him to stay for two minutes longer, I challenged him to a game of bullet (one minute per side). This game was intense, fun, and competitive, as most bullet games go.
I, as expected, lost on time. Our visitor then explained that he was, in fact, a FIDE National Master (NM) and agreed to answer a few questions for our video.
Although playing pick-up blitz games on the streets of Chicago was certainly fun, the most memorable aspect of the project was hearing peoples' stories and experiences with chess.
One young man, selling peanuts and water outside Wrigley Field, continually took breaks to come play us in chess. Despite not being the most advanced player, he continued playing and challenging us.
When asked when he was introduced to chess he responded: “You know what, man, I got incarcerated when I was a juvenile, (when I was) about 15 years old."
"A correctional officer, an old man, showed me the game. He was trying to teach me a gambit opening, and I couldn’t get it; it was killing me, I hated it. So, by me being a juvenile, he would let me out of my room to play chess."
"I had to beat him. So once I got it down, I was hooked -- I loved the game."
"It was hard to stay with it because I couldn’t find that many people that would play it, so every time I see someone playing it I get right back into that mode. I love the game.”
Coming into our project I never expected how chess had impacted so many people.
Each opponent that approached was a mystery. There were no ratings posted on pairing charts or tattooed on foreheads, and you could not tell the strength of your opponent just by looking at them. Often times I was surprised at the skill level of my latest competitor.
However, the most enjoyable aspect of my project was not just the playing of the game, rather it was the exchanging of stories with interesting people.
Seeing the impact that chess has on peoples' lives further proved how special chess is, and made our project a success.
Playing chess in a less traditional setting added a new layer of excitement to the game I have played my entire life so far -- and I hope to continue to do so.
[Editor's Note: due to rights management issues on some of the music used in the student project, the video is not currently posted online for public viewing. We may try to offer a screening at the Illinois Open, Labor Day Weekend. Sam Goldman will be a freshman at the University of Michigan this fall.]