The Williams Record

Chess Club returns to tournament play, wins at Bennington

Ella Marx

When Diego Esparza ’22.5 arrived at the Bennington Fall Open, he came excited to participate in his first-ever chess tournament. But Esparza returned from the competition with more than just an official ranking. He also brought $100 back to the Purple Valley — his prize for winning first place in his bracket.

Esparza and seven other members of the College’s Chess Club piled into two cars and headed to the Bennington Free Library on Saturday, which was the first in-person competition that the club has attended since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many club members like Esparza, this was their first in-person chess tournament, as well as their first rated competition — the United States Chess Federation (USCF) assigns ratings, which increase in number based on the player’s estimated strength, only to those who compete in official tournaments.

The Ephs entered the tournament as individuals, since the competition was not a team event; as a result, several found themselves playing against an opponent from the College’s Chess Club. Jaden Block ’24, the club’s president, played two of his four tournament games against his fellow Chess Club members. “That was a downside to a tournament structure of this kind,” he said. “I would have personally preferred to play in a team tournament or against other teams, or at least some sort of situation where we don’t play each other.”

These Chess Club match-ups proved especially ironic since members practiced together, reviewing notation, tournament etiquette, and strategy at club meetings before attending the open. “I was cramming before the chess tournament like I was preparing for a midterm, and I think other people were doing similarly,” Block said.

Some club members practiced in anticipation of the Bennington Fall Open, but for Pedro Espinosa ’26, who plans on competing in international tournaments over Thanksgiving break, this tournament was a form of practice. Espinosa, who grew up playing chess, won his first title — National Master, which is awarded to players who achieve ratings of 2200 — in February 2021.

The Chess Club didn’t enter the open as a team, but its members swept Bennington: Esparza won the U1350 section, for players with ratings under 1350, and Espinosa, the highest-rated player in the club, won the tournament’s open section.

Though Espinosa takes chess seriously, he said that he enjoys the laid-back environment that the club at the College offers. “It’s more casual, not like some other schools, which have super serious teams,” he said. “It’s more just a couple of guys and girls who like chess — it’s fun.”

The club has experienced somewhat of a competitive revival since the pandemic limited in-person events. Though the club attended other USCF tournaments pre-pandemic and successfully adopted a virtual format by hosting Zoom meetings starting in fall 2020, Block and Chess Club Vice President Marcello Berger ’25 said they hope to get club members involved in more competitive play.

“Tournaments are fun, but they’re very time-consuming,” Berger said. “One of the things that Jaden and I are hoping to do in the future of the Chess Club is reaching out to other colleges or teams in general nearby and set up matches.”

Block also credited former Chess Club President William Ren ’22.5, who currently serves as the club’s senior advisor, as a “major help and source of institutional memory.” Berger said that he hasn’t played competitively since before in-person tournaments were halted due to the pandemic; to him, the Bennington Fall Open was a great opportunity for Chess Club members to challenge themselves and re-engage with competition chess. “To all those people who don’t think they’re very good and don’t really want to put themselves out there, there’s a good chance you’re better than you realize,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that William Ren is in the class of 2021. He is in the class of 2022.5.

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About the Contributor
Ella Marx, Senior Writer

Ella Marx ’24 is a history and religion major, and a Jewish studies concentrator, from New York, N.Y. She is a senior writer, and she previously served...

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