Chess team embarks on the road to state


Ashley Spillman

Paul Gipkhin is planning his strategy of attack in a chess game against Jason Wan. Gipkhin memorized all his opening moves and plans to use his specialty. “My favorite opening is the Sicilian Defense opening,” Gipkhin said. “It is a powerful opening and it is my specialty. I still need to perfect it so I have to practice different variations.”

The game of chess has been around for 1,500 years and played by hundreds of millions of people, but only six players from the Parkway West chess club are going to the state competition on March 17.

“Anyone can go to state, but only those that are good usually go. If a school has a good team, it will go to state,” chess club president and junior Matt Boyd said.

Boyd stresses how a chess team, rather than just individual training, is an important aspect of improving one’s skills.

“A chess team is important because the others challenge you to get better, and all of us share a similar interest,” Boyd said. “It’s a great time to wind down because it’s fun. Practicing helps a player grow and developing their own identity helps as well, specifically knowing whether you want to be aggressive or passive. Also, chess players should try to specialize in an opening and find one that suits them the best.”

Though the team showed their improvements by going undefeated, each member spends hours independently working to improve their personal game.

“Practice is the most important part of chess,” junior Paul Gipkhin said. “I play chess, and I analyze mistakes that I make in prior games. It’s a competition to me [so I practice like it is]. I practice an hour a day by just playing 10-minute games over and over again. One time I had a game against a player online. It was a good match and I lost. I was infuriated because I made a stupid mistake. I used that anger to push me to continue to learn more strategies, and I analyzed my mistake during that game so that I won’t ever do it again. That’s what pushes me to become a great chess player.”

I think chess is an absolutely essential and important game that everyone should learn because it is the best game to teach critical thinking.”

— Matt Boyd

Chess team members attribute their success to their practices, but the team emphasizes that personal style should be incorporated to build a chess player’s persona and play style.

“I recommend that [players] not only practice but also develop their own identity as a player instead of copying someone else because everyone has a different play style,” Boyd said. “The chess team [since my freshman year] has progressively gotten better as we continue to improve. This was because the team’s main focus was to develop our own style of play.”

The team’s focus on identity and multiple practices allowed the members to feel confident as a team to compete in the state competition.

“At one point we had a potential grandmaster (highest rank in chess),” Gipkhin said. “Then we had to rebuild when I came in freshman year [because he graduated], and now we have returned to our prior status of being one of the best teams in the state. I’ve improved my chess skills drastically since my first year, and it’s because of the chess team and the hours I put in.”

Even though the team is good enough to compete at the state level, junior Jason Wan stresses that they must not underestimate other teams.

“We’ve definitely improved throughout the year,” Wan said. “But we cannot come in too confident. We have to play carefully since this is a different level from what we usually play. It’s important for us to do our best while not underestimating our competitors.”

Though the team is looking to take the state title, the club remains open to anyone who wants to join.

“Anyone is welcome to join the chess team,” Boyd said. “In fact, I think chess is an absolutely essential and important game that everyone should learn because it is the best game to teach critical thinking.”