New chess club hopes to empower students

Photo by Anna Braman ’21   Annegail Moreland ’20, one of the founders of MHCC, speaks to members.

Photo by Anna Braman ’21

Annegail Moreland ’20, one of the founders of MHCC, speaks to members.

BY LILY REAVIS ’21

Mount Holyoke’s first chess club meeting in 22 years took place on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Linh Nguyen ’21, Austen Borg ’20 and Annegail Moreland ’20 are co-founders of the new Mount Holyoke chess club (MHCC), which was created due to several students’ collective interest. The meeting, which took place in Blanchard Hall’s Great Room, focused on the goals and vision for the club.

Students realized that the College was missing a Chess Club at the beginning of this year. Nguyen said, “It seems ridiculous to me that no other women’s colleges currently have a chess club.” The other founding members agreed, and believe that founding Mount Holyoke’s club is a historical action.

Of the Seven Sisters Colleges, Vassar and Barnard Colleges both have operational chess clubs listed as student organizations. However, Barnard’s club operates through Columbia University, meaning that none of the Seven Sisters that are still female-oriented have chess clubs — except Mount Holyoke.

Moreland, Nguyen and Borg agreed that chess is a male-dominated field, which is one reason the formation of a chess club at a women’s college is so important to them. “We hope to foster within the Mount Holyoke community a genuine curiosity and love for the game,” Nguyen said, “and to empower underrepresented groups, especially women and LGBTQ+ folks, to challenge problematic gender stereotypes that exist in the chess-playing community.”

Today, Yifan Hou is the only woman on the World Chess Federation’s list of 100 top chess players. “All of us being visible in a chess space, no matter our level, would be revolutionary,” Moreland said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Each of the founding members have observed the severe gender gap in the chess world, and hope that the Mount Holyoke Chess Club will challenge it. “When I played competitively, I was just used to being in a room full of men all the time,” Borg said. “So it will be a very different experience to be in a club where all genders are represented.”

The MHCC founders believe that the club will create a space for players of all levels to learn and meet new people. “There’s no pressure to be at a certain level,” Moreland said, “and there’s no pressure to get to a certain level here.”

According to Nguyen, the club’s leadership will organize workshops and weekly meetings for students to play against each other, regardless of ability level. “Our main goal is to create an environment for chess enthusiasts and beginners alike to come together and enjoy the game,” she said.

Several students that are interested in MHCC have strong backgrounds in the game. Sierra Shuangyue ’21 has played chess for over 12 years and said that she was a member of the National Teenager Team in China between the ages of 10 and 12. “I [was] coaching little kids in playing chess monthly. I just really enjoy everything related to chess,” she said. Shuangyue is a certified chess auditor and said that she is excited for MHCC.

Nguyen has competed in several tournaments within the U.S., mostly in Maine, over the past two years. In 2017, she represented the state of Maine at the National Girls Tournament of Champions in conjunction with the U.S. Open, where she placed 34th overall. “I wanted to start chess club because I miss playing in tournaments and having a community with the same shared interest,” she said.

Moreland has been playing chess nationally for 10 years and teaching it for two. They started teaching novice-level chess at NYChessKids and other organizations when they were 14 years old. “I would teach other kids because I was at a level where people would be like, ‘How do you do this?’” They recalled teaching other kids how to perform advanced chess openings like “Fried Livers” and “Dragons” at a young age.

Moreland played chess internationally throughout elementary, middle and high school. They said, “Playing was really great because every couple of months I was able to get out of school and go play in Dallas or Nashville or Florida.” Moreland became a member of the United States Chess Federation in 2006 and only left when they came to college.

Other students interested in MHCC have less experience. Members were asked to share their past relationships with chess at the Tuesday meeting. “I have been playing with my family for pretty much all my life, but it’s more like a Thanksgiving tradition,” said Katie Corasanti ’21. I haven’t played super competitively.” Other students in the circle shared that they had never played but wanted to learn.

Currently, Moreland and Nguyen are co-presidents of MHCC and Borg is a board member. The club is still seeking a vice president and a communications officer.

Moreland, who was presiding over the meeting, said that the executive board was planning to appeal to the Ways and Means Committee for club funding. The funding would allow them to purchase boards and snacks, as well as to plan possible club retreats. Until MHCC’s funding application is approved, members agreed to bring their own chess boards to meetings, even though they only have three in total. On Saturday, Moreland plans to bring puzzle sheets for members who want to learn the game.

The club plans to meet once a week on Saturdays at 2 p.m. in the Great Room. Because of members’ different skill sets, each meeting will include one-on-one play, workshops led by the founders and community outreach. At Tuesday’s meeting, several students spoke up to say that they believed chess is a community event despite its one-on-one games. Moreland described MHCC as a family and an inclusive space.

The founding members are interested in extending the club beyond campus, possibly teaching workshops in local elementary and middle schools. The founders left the meeting on Tuesday by reiterating that MHCC is a space for everyone, no matter their skill level. “It’s a club for those who know, it’s a club for those who don’t,” Moreland said. “But it’s all about chess!”

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