Accepting the gambit: CPP chess club transitions to virtual play

By Lauren Muttram, April 13, 2021

The Cal Poly Pomona Kings Chess Club exchanged its physical board and pieces for a computer-generated version of the strategy game as the club is forced to meet and play virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a mission to “foster scholars’ intellectual growth while having fun,” the chess club is continuing to offer meetings, tournaments and workshops for members and individuals with an interest in chess, regardless of level or rank. Despite shifting to the online environment, the club continues to compete virtually against universities all over the nation with their A Team winning five of seven tournaments and their B Team winning four of eight.

“We had used chess.com a little bit in the past when we were in person,” said club founder and mentor Grant Zeman (‘20, electrical engineering). “However, chess.com has become one of the main mediums for playing against each other now, so we’re using it much more frequently.”

Chess.com is an ever-growing internet chess server, forum and networking site where individuals can play chess, improve their skills and continue to practice the game while in a remote setting.

The website hosts more than 10 million games each day and has seen a colossal 190% increase in user accounts since the pandemic began.

The chess club is currently meeting virtually to compete through chess.com, an online chess server. (Courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona Kings Chess Club)

“We definitely want students to feel like this is a place they can belong to, that they can socialize at, form lasting bonds and friendships with,” said club Vice President Nektary Telep, a sixth-year microbiology student.

Participating in the club for the past two years, Telep not only enjoys the friendly competition offered by chess but believes in the intellectual growth possible by playing with peers.

As the online chess scene flashes, the club continues to improve its virtual means of communication through enhanced Discord channels, allowing fast and efficient communication between members and officers.

To further encourage member participation in a remote setting, the club officers initiated a point system in lieu of the fees they traditionally charge members.

“It’s a way to provide awesome material and content to members, like prizes and awards, as well as drive club participation,” Zeman said. “The more you participate, the more you earn.”

Members can earn a maximum of 3,000 points. After collecting a certain number of points, members are ranked from double pawn to king.

Each rank is accompanied by a specific prize including keychains, T-shirts and even entries into a raffle for a free, year-long premium subscription to chess.com. One of the prizes offered is a selection of stickers that incorporate the pop culture phenomenon and popular Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit.”

The show not only exposed the public to the thrill and potentially intense nature accompanying chess but influenced millions of people to play. After the show’s debut last fall, an additional 3.2 million people joined chess.com and chessboards were selling out worldwide.

First-year mechanical engineering student Juan Meza explained the show’s success in promoting chess and attributed to the growth of other online platforms.

“COVID has helped the online chess scene and the rise in chess on Twitch has also contributed to it as well,” Meza said.

With the popularity of chess increasing online, members appreciate how simple it is to connect and interact with individuals with a shared passion.

“It’s really easy to access and play chess against other people who want to attend tournaments and attend meetings without being in person and sacrificing my travel time,” said club member Arlet Medina, a second-year chemical engineering student.

The CPP Kings Chess Club meets virtually every Friday at 1 p.m. via Discord with additional workshops on Mondays.

To join or learn more about being a member, visit its Discord channel at https://discord.com/invite/kZwCRsn9fD.

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