Advice from a chess nerd

Dan Novack
Margaret Bauer

Dear Freshmen,

Wash. U. students are intelligent, and you all, my little soon-to-be-ex-premeds are, on average, more intelligent than the rest of us here. This is why I want to take this opportunity to mold your young, frightened, impressionable minds into considering working the game of chess into your college experience.

You might be saying right now, “Whoa, school hasn’t even started yet, and they’re already trying to nerdify me. What could be lamer than chess, especially freshman year when I’m trying to be cool by pretending to like whiny college music and sharing my Easy Mac … ? Besides, college is for drinking and watching the Big Lebowski every other night. And chess, by the way, is not a sport.”

OK, then, let’s just say that chess, as a competitive activity, is something that I’ve enjoyed since I was only a timid, germaphobic, average-looking freshman until now, three years later-a senior with a debonair confidence and exotic good looks who would be happy to finish your leftovers. And I really can’t deny that chess hasn’t at least, in part, contributed to this miraculous transformation.

During my first weeks on campus, I made friends with chess. I played with people on my freshman floor who were just as timid as I was. I won, I lost, I lost a lot more. I taught people the rules; people taught me stuff. Chess, believe it or not, is a very social sport; it can really be a pleasant pretext for casual personal exchange.

As my college career continued, chess became a great hobby for me. It was actually relaxing to play a few games on the Internet on study breaks or to spend weekend afternoons playing pickup games in the Loop (a.k.a. area near Wash. U. normally reserved for people cooler than I am) when the weather was nice. I went to Italy junior year and brought my chessboard. I joined an Italian chess club and met some fascinating people.

I’d better stop before this starts to sound like some cheesy college admissions essay about something that changed my outlook on life. The message is this: while your parents are still enthusiastic about buying you extra-long bed sheets and mini-fridges, it couldn’t hurt to ask them to throw in a chess set. And who knows, maybe you’re the next Bobby Fischer, in which case you’ll become a crazy old anti-Semite and get arrested in Japan. In any case, whether you’re the next world champion or just use it to make a few friends, chess is a great college game. Just know that one thing’s for sure: no matter how much you play, you’ll never be as nerdy as I am.

Your friendly Washington University chess nerd,

Benjamin Schatz

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