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With new found popularity, Chess Club brings home fifth from Columbia, Mo. state championship

Recently, chess has become one of the favorite games of the average St. Louis U. High student. With this growth in popularity, so too has SLUH’s Chess Club grown in success. Not long ago, the SLUH Chess team ventured to Columbia, Mo. to compete in the State Championships. For the first time ever, they brought home a trophy.

The State Championship for chess has been a weekend event for the last 25 years or so, yet SLUH had never sent any students to the competition until this year. The team sent by SLUH managed to snag fifth place in the tournament.

“Out of those 38 teams, we finished fifth. The trophies went five deep, so we've actually brought home a trophy rather than saying, ‘Oh, yeah, we had a good day,’ or something. We actually got some hardware, so that was nice,” said Chess Club moderator Rich Esswein. “So then, in addition, they also gave awards for individual performances on various boards.”

The tournament is set up with four boards with players assigned to each board against other players on that board. The team was led by senior C.J. Elam on board one. On board two, senior Luke Conran received a trophy for fourth place. On board three, sophomore Max Delgado earned a trophy for third place. Senior Nathan Abner and sophomore Charlie Hill both received individual honors.

“Our board three, Max Delgado, finished third, so that was a very good visual result for sure. He got a big trophy about a foot tall, which was pretty nice,” said Esswein. “And seeing Luke Conran finish fourth on board two, also a wonderful result.”

Not only did the Chess Club see tremendous success at State, but also throughout the season. Weekly competitions were held every Wednesday from late November through mid-February, which totals nine matches. SLUH put forth two teams, A and B, each with five players. Most teams, however, only have one team, so the B team played against many A teams. SLUH’s A team went undefeated throughout these nine matches, which is an astounding accomplishment.

“My favorite part of the chess season was the game I played in state against a person that was 600 rating points better than me. It was a draw the entire time, but I just ran out of time and lost,” said sophomore Max Delgado. “Then, I used the anger from losing and excitement from keeping even with a really good player to create a king side attack where I sacrificed a rook for checkmate in my next game. I ended up finishing in third place for board three. I’m very happy with my performance.”

Meanwhile, the B team won four out of its nine matches, which was also a big achievement, seeing that they were forced to play many A teams.

“There were only three schools in the league that had a B team; we were one of those three,” said Esswein. “So, for the most part, they were playing everybody else's top five guys. So our second five guys even still won four matches, which I think is also a pretty incredible thing and a very positive thing for the future.”

While SLUH Chess does not yet have a firm grip on the first place trophy, the team is certainly on the way to greatness.

“I don't think we're driving St. Louis chess in any way,” said Esswein. “I think we're just part of the presence of the Chess Center here and just the general enthusiasm about chess. As well as the fact that some of the guys are playing even around the school, playing online chess, all that stuff. So it's just kind of the access, the availability, those kinds of things. It's sort of raising all boats.”

The chess team will see many seniors graduating this year, but there is also a promising showing from underclassmen and juniors.

“Each of these last two years, we've graduated some very, very strong players, and we will again this year,” said Esswein. “Four of our top five guys are seniors.”

The good news, however, is in the B team, which is filled with underclassmen including freshman Simon Edgell and sophomore Daniel Huynh, all of whom showed great promise throughout the season.

“(The younger) guys, kind of future stars for the team, again only freshman and sophomores, so we got a few more years with them. The other good news is that I expect to have some pretty strong freshmen coming in,” said Esswein. “I ran a camp a couple summers ago with a lot of these guys when they were just rising seventh graders, and they'll be this year as freshmen. We're looking to get more freshmen plowed into the mix here as the seniors leave. 

Though Esswein is excited about what’s ahead for the team, he is sad to see great talent in the seniors leaving. Some of the notable names include CJ Elam, Michael Friedman, and Nathan Abner.

“So we were losing some top guys, but we got some guys filling in,” said Esswein. “Somebody said it once, I forget the exact quote, but it goes like this: some teams rebuild, but if you have a program you just reload and the line just keeps marching. We're losing some outstanding players but we've got a good line coming up.”







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