Athletes of the mind

UB Chess Club aims to expand membership


Jingpeng Xu’s father forced him to learn how to play chess and he hated it.

But as the freshman chemistry major began to learn the game, he was captured by the allure of the complex strategies of chess.

Xu is now a member of the UB Chess Club, a club that didn’t exist for about 20 years due to a shortage of chess enthusiasts.

UB had a chess club in the 1990s, but when membership dwindled the club was terminated due to lack of interest. In 2010, the chess club came back with new fervor. The club now holds meetings Tuesdays at 6:30 in 250 Student Union.

The chess club participants hope to increase its membership and host more tournaments, according to John Hanni, a junior business management major and president of chess club. There are currently six or seven core members, and another 20 students who occasionally attend meetings – including one 2014 alum, Mark Johnson, who has been playing chess for 21 years.

Johnson began playing chess when he was 4 years old and now coaches the chess team at North Tonawanda High School.

“Chess is a stress reliever,” Johnson said. “It’s also a way to be competitive.”

Xu and Hanni didn’t see the benefits of playing chess when they first picked up a pawn.

Hanni’s close friends in high school loved chess, so he decided to try it out. He’s been playing for six years.

Hanni enjoys forming social connections and learning with other players in chess club.

“I didn’t get into it for chess itself,” Hanni said. “But now I’m addicted.”

The mental rigor of chess appeals to many members of chess club including Xu and Hanni.

Xu became more interested in chess when he discovered how much planning and strategy it takes to win a game. When Xu’s father first introduced him to chess, he hoped his son would learn logic and reasoning skills. Although Xu wasn’t enthused at first, now he attends meetings because he wants to keep improving his strategies.

Sardar Elias, a junior mechanical engineering major and secretary of chess club, said chess is his favorite hobby because it is mentally stimulating.

“Chess is the greatest strategy game in my opinion,” Sardar wrote in an email. “It requires intense critical thinking skills and outmaneuvering.”

Despite the rigor of the game, chess club accepts players with any level of ability. Experienced club members are open to teaching new gamers.

“The atmosphere is relaxed,” Xu said. “But some players are more competitive.”

In a nearly silent room, experienced players compete in games that can last anywhere from less than five minutes to more than two hours.

“It’s an exciting experience,” Hanni said. “You need good instincts.”

Sometimes, however, luck can intervene in a chess match.

Once, Hanni accidentally let his queen get captured. But he ended up winning and it became of his favorite chess memories.

“I dropped my queen and got a checkmate,” he said. “Everyone thought I planned it and was being very clever, but it was just luck.”

The chess club hosts a tournament each semester in hopes to gain more members. The fall tournament is geared toward UB students, but the spring tournament is advertised to other universities, high schools and local chess clubs. There are usually 10 to 20 participants.

At the end of November, chess club will hold a tournament open to all UB students.

The club is setting its sights on holding national tournaments at UB.

“I urge all the chess-lovers in UB to come and practice as much as they want,” Elias said.

The chess club’s spring tournament is currently its largest event with players from different schools competing for a $90 prize.

Meetings are held Tuesday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in 250 Student Union.