The Rebirth of UCD Chess

Mariana Verdes

When I came to UCD, I couldn’t believe that there was no Chess Society. After many years of doubt and procrastination in my own relationship with chess, I finally decided to patch things up. The break up was too long, it was stupid and I was wrong. I decided to build up the courage and bring together the wonderful minds of chess in UCD; after all I needed some competition.

I knew there would be a lot of chess players on campus all I needed was a plan to find them, time and some enthusiasm. I was a determined masters student, filled with regret from my lack of involvement in my undergrad but determined not to repeat past mistakes. Of course being older and wiser, the social stigma associated with chess didn’t bother me anymore and life in secondary school was well and truly behind me. Chess is cool to me and that's all that mattered. So, the rebirth of UCD Chess began and so far it’s been a wonderful journey.

On the 9th of February we had our very first club night, which despite my pathetic organization and flimsy paper chess sets was a huge success. I was amazed at how many people approached me wanting to get involved or thanking me for organizing it. This only gave me encouragement to keep going. With time Mathsoc kindly adopted us and so our underground chess club began to meet weekly growing stronger and stronger every week. The Society is still awaiting official recognition from the university, yet despite not being official we have about 120 signatures and 90 Facebook members on our UCD Chess Club page (join the page if you are interested). The club meets regularly in Ag1.01 on Wednesday from 6pm until our brains are too frazzled to think anymore and revenge is postponed to the following week. The club has members of various standards from complete beginners to very strong players. All are welcome.

Students come from various academic backgrounds, science, maths, medicine, law, languages etc. and from various stages; from first years to PhD and research fellows everyone is bound by the wonderful battles of chess.
On the second of April, five of us traveled to Cork were UCC held the Irish Chess Intervarsity. While no trophies were brought back it was an amazing experience none the less. Our members did very well and participation was very rewarding for us all. As one of our devoted members said our duty was to assess the competition and prepare for the battles next year when we are confident that our success will only grow.

A major achievement for UCD Chess came when we were approached by the Irish Chess Union who wants UCD Chess to host the Irish Chess Championship in July 1st to the 10th. This event will host the best players from Ireland and our club members will be playing in it also.

The benefits of playing chess are limitless. Chess improves cognitive abilities and problem solving as well as developing creativity, memory and concentration. And of course it’s a very fun game to play and a great way to meet new people. Despite all of this there still exists a negative social stigma around chess. As I recall joining the chess club in a girl’s secondary school (to quote Mean Girls) was ‘social suicide’. Now, I ask why is this?

I learned to play chess when I was about 6 years old, back in my home country where winters can be so harsh that electricity wires snap from ice. The dark winter nights were filled with the sweet smell of beeswax candles and sunflower seeds beside my father, my older brother and our chessboard. I’d watch them play for hours until I finally learned the game myself. Sometimes, the games against my brother ended in crocodile tears, as he would take my coins or sweets after encouraging betting chess.

As a child, chess was, to put it in black and white, just a fun game we played in my family. It wasn’t until secondary school that I found out that the boundaries of social life and chess don’t mix. As the doomed teenage years crept upon me and the desire to fit in took priority, I found myself drifting away from the game. I enjoyed playing tennis, teen discos, and birthday parties, playing with make up and eventually sipping on Fat Frogs. The compatibility between both sides just wasn't there. You either chose the “typical” chess route, which apart from playing on the computer, wasn't really one open to me. Or social life and what other teenagers did.

The thing I realise now however is that there is no such thing as a typical chess player. The social stigma around chess is a baseless prejudice and stereotyping someone is like reading the back of a book: you may know what the book is about but you are missing the bigger picture. For chess players come from all walks of life and have various personalities and one can be sociable and good at chess. Chess is in fact a very social game and almost has it’s own language layered in wittiness and sarcasm. Two people can comfortably sit in silence, feet almost touching for hours. While competing communication is through a shrug, a half smile, a sigh and gentle finger taps on the table. When the game is finished conversation easily flows about mistakes and potential strategies one could have taken. Players can be from any corner in the world, from different cultures, young or old yet still be able to find a common language, a unique bond through chess.

When my own friends found out I intended to start this society many were incredibly surprised I even played chess. I guess stereotypes don’t always fit.

Created 2016-04-19 ◦ Last updated 2016-04-19 ◦ Editor JMM

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