Got chess? New College Chess Club strives to break boundaries
New College Chess Club and Kava Social Chess Club at a tournament in Orlando. Photo courtesy of Adil Oyango.

Got chess? New College Chess Club strives to break boundaries

With clubs ranging from Treeleaders to Anarchy Deathsticks, New College has a student group for any interest. For those with a knack for waging war against black and white pawns, the Chess Club has a spot ready. The Catalyst sat down with Chess Club mentor, Harold Gonzalez (’20), to talk about New College chess past, present and future. 

Back in Gonzalez’s times there was no official chess club, but Gonzalez was on the forefront of bringing casual players together. They talked about starting a club while playing on the Pei balconies and in the Pei Second Court lounge area. 

“It was kind of like a space where people would come in and out of,” Gonzalez said. “And then it picked up a lot in the student body…So much so that we were able to convince Professor [George] Ruppeiner to throw a chess Independent Study Project (ISP) for us. We got credit for studying and playing chess.”

As this was during their first year, Gonzalez was able to meet a lot of upperclassmen through the chess ISP. This helped them build connections to continue bringing chess to the students. “Through my later years we ran a couple of very local tournaments within the student body but they weren’t really advertised. At this point, we would just play at Hamilton Center sometimes or in the dorms.”

After graduating, Gonzalez met a student at a chess tournament in St. Petersburg. “I didn’t know that she was a New College student at the time but she played chess so we became really good friends. When she found out I was an alumni, we started talking about organizing a group of people to start going to tournaments.”

Once the current Chess Club President and thesis student Jennifer Stegman got into contact with Gonzalez, paperwork was put in place to make the club official. Gonzalez offered to help out with teaching the members how to play, along with offering tournament strategies. 

Gonzalez currently runs a chess club, unaffiliated with New College, housed in Kava Social Club, a tea shop in Bradenton that hosts events regularly. The group meets every Sunday to play in a tournament-style setting. “I’m getting to know them all, even the new players that are starting to come. Whenever they show up I teach and show them things. And it seems like they’re really interested in it and want it to grow. That’s what we’re pushing for here.”

Though not the official coach, Gonzalez acts as a mentor for the team and has plans to continue guiding them towards the growth they want to achieve in the coming years through adding more structure and advertising the club better.

“I would try to organize something more of an official team where we can have practices and we can reach out to the community. I would want to have events here, travel and really try to hone in on those skills a little more,” they said. 

Along with potentially becoming the official coach for New College Chess, Gonzalez is studying to become a Tournament Director (TD) certified by the US Chess Federation. This will allow them to host and oversee chess tournaments.

Gonzalez emphasized the importance of diversifying chess. “The thing about modern day chess is that more people are being exposed to it so more people are playing it now,” they explained. “As a TD, you have to be aware of the discrimination that may occur. If there’s an LGBTQ+ player, or if there’s a female player coming in, it’s a very intimidating space. Especially when you have guys that may be over-competitive or sometimes even gatekeeping certain players from joining. I’d need to arrange everything so that the community is as accepting and welcoming as possible because there’s no room for that kind of stuff.”

Kava Social Chess marketing flyer for recent event. Photo courtesy of Adil Oyango.

The most recent chess  event at Kava Social Club was held on May 11 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Games, music and food were available for players of all levels to enjoy. Schools including New College competed as teams but individual beginners had an opportunity to practice with each other.

Rules and prize information for May 11 tournament at Kava Social Club in Bradenton. Photo courtesy of Adil Oyango.

For Gonzalez, doing this work with chess is fulfilling and a way to come full circle with New College before continuing on in their own journey of becoming a lawyer. “This place is special in the way that it’s given us a lot of tools to be successful out in the real world. I learned a lot of stuff with the students, professors and just the environment here.

“It feels nice to be able to give something back to the community – that’s always the best reward,” they continued. “And now that I’m able to do that in a way that’s meaningful to the students, it’s definitely really special.”

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