Rory Clarke chats to the UCD Chess Society for the final Club Focus of 2017.
Chess is one of the world’s oldest sports. Evolving into one of the world’s foremost games of strategy and analysis, it has enthralled millions. However, despite its illustrious history, it has long been ridiculed and mocked for daring to call itself a sport. I talked with the auditor of the UCD Chess Society, Catherine Hearne, to discuss how the society works, if it is a sport, and how the society has grown in recent years.
In dealing with one of the main sources of confusion on campus: the club vs society debate, Hearne says that “We function as a mixture of a club and society but we are officially titled as a society.” Nevertheless, they enter a myriad of competitions every year. Two teams are entered in the Leinster Chess League. Added to that, the Chess Society recently took part in a national competition in Galway. They had several fantastic results with Hugh O’Connor winning the minor section, beating UCD’s own Ritik Verma in the final round to claim the title.
“It’s simply not moving the pieces around the board aimlessly.”
Confronting the question head on Hearne says that she “definitely” sees chess as a sport. People who don’t play chess don’t see, and don’t understand, the extent of the preparation that goes into the game. “It’s simply not moving the pieces around the board aimlessly. One has to practice and train their mind to analyse positions, to remember countless openings or endgames, all of which could mean a win or a loss. To be able to concentrate for around three and a half hours on one game is a skill acquired with practice. You have to train your brain the same way a bodybuilder trains their muscles. Perhaps it’s hard to see a few friendly games as sport, but when you see a chess tournament it’s hard to see it as anything else.”
Unlike many sports it can be played by anyone, against anyone. A nimble mind is required to succeed in this sport; feats of physical endurance, agility and fantastic acrobatics will gain you little admiration at a Chess Competition. The game, the moves and the analysis transcend generations, physical capabilities, language barriers, and ethnicity. The membership of UCD’s Chess Society certainly represent this. According to Hearne, the society is not made up of chess grandmasters but has a “range from complete beginner to people who have represented Ireland in chess. It’s a very mixed bunch but I must say I am very proud to be a part of a society where the standard doesn’t necessarily matter.”
A nimble mind is required to succeed in this sport; feats of physical endurance, agility, and fantastic acrobatics will gain you little admiration at a Chess Competition.
The chess society operates a number of regular events throughout the college year. They meet every Monday, usually in Café Brava in the Old Student Centre from 6pm until 9pm. They encourage a relaxed, come-and-go atmosphere. However, as Hearne pointed out to me they don’t just play traditional chess. They play a few variations of the game too, one of which is swap chess. “This involves two players playing as a team to beat the other two players. It certainly doesn’t follow the conventional rules but is good fun and a great ice-breaker. It certainly gets people chatting and always ends in laughter because some of the end positions can be very unusual looking.” They also host beginner lessons for anybody who wants to learn how to play, in the Agricultural building on Monday night.
Like many groups in UCD, the Chess Society also has a very active online presence. They regularly post chess puzzles or interesting matches on Facebook for their members to analyse and debate. Branching out into other social media, this year they “have joined Snapchat so make sure and follow if you ever need some nerdy Snapchat stories to brighten you day.”
There have also been some recent landmarks for the society. In May one of the world’s most famous chess players, Judith Polgar, visited UCD at the invitation of the society. She gave a presentation and also presided over the UCD chess tournament. Hearne remarks that “she seemed to really love how diverse the society with regards to the standard of playing and encouraged everyone to keep going.” Hearne points out that such praise coming from such a prominent member of the international chess community was hugely encouraging for the society.
In collaboration with the Harry Potter society, the Chess society held a ‘Wizard’s Chess’ night in collaboration with the Harry Potter society. The committee has also organised for a huge outdoor chess set to be built at the apex of the lake and the science mural wall (for more detail as to why, see Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone).
So far, coming to the end of Semester one, it’s been a hugely successful and active year so far for the UCD chess society, and no doubt, Semester two will be just as jam-packed.