Competitive fun is the name of the game for the UMass Chess Club

By Anthony Rentsch

(Araz Havan/Daily Collegian)
(Araz Havan/Daily Collegian)

Tim Kelly, a junior accounting major, and Lauren Timmins, a sophomore chemical engineering major, share a love for chess, though this enthusiasm did not develop in the same way

Timmins learned the game as a kid but never played until she arrived at the University of Massachusetts. Kelly, on the other hand, learned to play when he was 17 and immediately liked it, joining his high school chess club before seeking out the UMass Chess Club the first week he was on campus.

Now, Kelly and Timmins are the president and vice president of the club, respectively, and their love of chess continues to spill over into the club chartered in 1975, at what Kelly called the peak popularity of chess in America due to the chess prodigy Bobby Fischer.

“Chess is really stimulating,” Timmins said. “Chess hasn’t been solved. There is so much to learn about it.”

“Rules for chess are really simple: I could probably teach someone who hasn’t even heard of it in five minutes,” Kelly said. “But the great part about it is everything after that is complicated and stimulating. The strategy is very fun. Even though the rules are the same, every game is different; it’s very rare to duplicate a game. So it’s like a new challenge every single time.”

This learning process is woven into the weekly meetings – every Thursday at Blue Wall from 6 p.m. until it closes. Timmins said there is a wide range of skill amongst members, and he tries to teach them some of the strategy and thinking involved during the meetings.

Often, Timmins said, an older man named Larry comes to the meetings and sets up boards in a certain way and then lets the games play out, something she and many other players find fascinating.

The learning process is always ongoing, but Kelly admitted there are occasionally moments when it’s possible to see the lessons play out on the board. During a game a year and a half ago, he was able to recreate a 17-move game played by one of his favorite chess players, Paul Morphy move-for-move.

Although Kelly said the game was one of the cooler ones he has ever played, he is into chess more for the personal challenges associated with each game. The outcome of a game of chess, unlike other activities like cards, dice or other sports, is all in the players’ hands, which makes it more individually satisfying and exciting.

“My favorite thing about chess is that … all the information is known to all the players and the only thing that affects whether a person is going to win or not is their ability and that’s it – there is nothing else to it.”

While club meetings do provide the 10 to 15 members that show up on any particular day with an opportunity to learn and grow, Kelly and Timmins stress that the meetings are really just a casual space to come play chess and hang out.

“It’s a really nice atmosphere,” Timmins said.

There also are not any requirements to be in the club, other than showing up at meetings.

“People ask me, ‘Oh, how do I become a member?’ and I tell them that you just did,” Kelly joked.

Timmins said that although the club meetings are very casual, many of the members play ongoing series against one another, which lead to a fun competitive atmosphere.

Currently, the club only competes internally. Kelly hopes that in the near future, the Western Massachusetts Chess Foundation can sponsor the club. This sponsorship would allow them to host official United States Chess Federation rated tournaments at UMass.

Next year, Kelly, a USCF member who is highly ranked in the state, even hopes to compete at tournaments as a team.

Kelly said that in a couple of weeks the club is planning on holding a casual tournament for anyone interested, whether they’re a UMass student or not.

Kelly and Timmins encourage people to join the 20 or 30 active members and get involved in the club – no matter what their experience level is. For the two, joining the chess club as freshmen has been a rewarding decision.

“I’ve been an active member (since I joined),” Kelly said. “I haven’t really missed a meeting in the last 3 years (except) for exams.”

“I saw it the first week of freshman year and I’ve been going ever since,” Timmins said. “I just have a lot of fun there.”

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.