Checkmate: How chess has hit the jackpot at Wayland High School


Credit: Tina Su

At the beginning of the year, juniors Ayush Kumar, Hallie Luo, Andrew Fang and Zack Goldstein restarted Chess Club. “I think Chess Club has grown since the beginning of the year, and now that it is at lunch, anyone can come and play a game even if they aren’t a regular to the club,” junior and Chess Club co-leader Ayush Kumar said. “We welcome everyone.”

Tina Su

Whether it’s during a biology lab or a free block, a Spanish or AP Calculus class, one is more than likely to see students playing chess. Throughout the last couple of months, chess has become increasingly popular with teens across the globe. And the trend has made its way to Wayland High School.

Before social media and had made it popular again, juniors Ayush Kumar, Hallie Luo, Andrew Fang and Zack Goldstein were ahead of the curve in restarting chess club.

“I was aware that a chess club existed last year, but I never had time to go,” junior and Chess Club co-leader Ayush Kumar said. “Hallie asked me if I wanted to help restart it since she knew that I was into chess, and I agreed since I thought it’d be a fun way to get more people playing and enjoying the game. Along with Andrew and Zack, we decided to lead it together, and Hallie had the idea of us setting up in the Commons during lunch, since it would get more people’s attention.”

However, Kumar and the other chess club leaders cannot take full credit for chess’s success at WHS.

“As much as I want Chess Club to take credit, I will say that I think this is more a part of a recent explosion of popularity in chess on the internet,” Kumar said. “Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, online chess has experienced multiple surges in popularity, which hasn’t been restricted to just our school.”

On a national level, other factors are credited for chess’s recent surge in popularity.

“I’d attribute the popularity in part to some really interesting things that have been happening in the chess world recently, such as drama over the Chess World Championship, the infamous cheating scandal with Grandmasters Hans Niemann and Magnus Carlsen and the introduction of new AI chess bots on platforms such as,” Kumar said. “All of these things have drawn people’s attention towards chess, so much so that recently has been having server issues due to the rapid increase in traffic. While I think Chess Club has done an excellent job promoting chess and introducing it to a lot of new people, we’re only part of the reason for the big boom at the high school.”

Nonetheless, the club’s growing presence during lunch in the Commons has introduced some students to the unfamiliar game of chess and welcomed other experienced players back.

“I think it’s been really great to see new people wander over to our table in the Commons and sit down for a game,” Kumar said. “We now have some members who come regularly and play nearly every lunch that we’re set up, but we also have people who pop in every once in a while whenever they’re feeling up for a game. We welcome both types of people.”

Chess Club has also bonded groups of individuals that otherwise may not cross paths at school.

“I’ve gotten the chance to play chess with people who I otherwise wouldn’t regularly talk to,” Kumar said. “I really enjoy the welcoming environment that Chess Club fosters, and we try to keep it open to anyone who wants to play, regardless of their experience.”

To some students, chess offers opportunities both mentally and socially.

“I really enjoy games that are very in-depth and chess is one of those games, because there are infinite possibilities,” junior and Chess Club co-leader Zack Goldstein said. “Every game is unique and there is a lot you can study and learn about the game as a whole. I really enjoy being able to talk about and play chess with my friends and developing relationships with other people as well.”

As for the Chess Club leaders, the recent success of the club has left a lasting impact on them.

“Since chess is my passion, running the chess club and seeing more people enjoying the games really makes me happy,” junior and Chess Club co-leader Andrew Fang said.

Given the complexity of the game, it seems like student’s interest in chess isn’t going away anytime soon.

“I think the main reason I enjoy it is because of how complex it is,” Kumar said. “The amount of chaos that can unfold on a board of just 64 squares will never cease to amaze me. It’s incredible how many lines and outcomes can be calculated within just a single game. Even supercomputers are unable to play chess perfectly.”