Published: November 14, 2014

Checkmate this out: the Mason High School chess team might appear calm, cool and collected on the outside, but on the inside, they have the focus and fire to give it their all on the board.

MHS has won the prized Greater Miami Conference all-sports trophy for three consecutive years, encompassing the most physically grueling and mentally challenging sports. One contributor to this athletic excellence is the MHS chess team. According to chess team head coach Alan Hodge, chess is similar to the other contact sports with the amount of nerves brought to the board.

“It’s like any competition,” Hodge said. “Any sprinter is going to be nervous before he gets in block. Any football team is going to be nervous before kickoff. That’s just part of competing. That’s just your body doing what it needs to do to perform at a higher level than just sitting in a rocking chair. It’s a natural part of it.”

In a chess match, freshman Jeffrey Huang strives for the mental mindset to think a lot of different things at once.

“You would have to calculate what your opponent would do, what you would do, and all the different possibilities,” Huang said.  “It actually challenges you a lot.”

Hodge said part of that challenge includes being aware of blind spots because not everybody is seeing the same thing in their mind when they play chess. He said the difference of the game depends on what one player sees and another one doesn’t.

“Any chess game is a succession of different positions,” Hodge said. “Each of those positions is a problem to be solved. There’s a right answer, and there are many wrong answers. As you tend to win more frequently, you find the right answer more frequently.”

Senior Kevin Li said he tackles the game by thinking about objectives.

“I’m thinking, ‘In order to win I need to establish a good position first, then try to push my way down the center of the board, instead of the side,’” Li said. “I think more in terms of strategy and ideas than concrete move by moves.”

When it comes to winning, according to Hodge, saying checkmate never comes as a surprise. He said he knows at a point in the game if he has won, and it’s just a matter of executing his moves and reaching the end zone.

“The checkmate is satisfying, but the aha! moment comes earlier than that when you realize, ‘I know how to get to checkmate,’” Hodge said. “It might be three moves. It might be 18 moves. You know how to get there, and you know you’ve won the game. That’s where the satisfaction comes, but you can’t do a lot. You can’t get up and do a dance and scream and yell, and be foolish because the game is still going on. It’s very subdued.”

Although his court is a chessboard and his strength is all mental, like any other sport, Li said chess comes down to winning. According to Li, once his internal buzzer hits zero, it’s a time of celebration and reflection.

“It’s obviously a relief (to win) because you just realized that you might have made some mistakes throughout the game, but that didn’t stop you or lead you to lose,”  Li said. “Even though both sides make mistakes, your opponent made the last one.”



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