11:43 a.m. April 8, 2013 | Updated The Edward R. Murrow High School chess team won its eighth national victory this past weekend. "It was right down to the wire, down to the last five minutes," Coach Eliot Weis said. "The kids played beautifully. It was very close, we came through." The following article was written before the tournament.
On most days, you can find the ten brainiacs of the Edward R. Murrow High School chess team in a math classroom filled with the clattering sounds of high-speed matches.
The energy of a recent practice was more reminiscent of a heated basketball game than of teenagers pushing chess pieces across a board.
“I don’t like to lose,” said the team's captain, Alex Ostrovskiy, as he loudly calculated his next move in a scrimmage against a teammate.
The four-foot trophies lining the room made it clear that no one on Murrow’s chess team liked to lose. Since its most recent state championship win in February, the team’s been eagerly preparing for the U.S. Chess SuperNationals tournament that kicks off Friday.
At a three-day event in Nashville, the group will do battle with more than 5,000 chess players representing over 1,400 schools throughout the states.
“For this year, for this team, second place would not be acceptable,” said Eliot Weiss, a calculus teacher who founded the chess team in 1981. “We feel like we’re number one.”
Tournaments of this stature have become somewhat of a ritual for the legendary team, which was documented in a book and will be the subject of an upcoming movie. Since 1989, the group has sealed 16 city titles, 16 state wins and seven national victories.
While the 10-member group has only one girl, Weiss called the team a “microcosm of the New York City melting pot,” with each student hailing from a different country. China, Jamaica, Russia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Dominican Republic are all represented.
Alexis Paredes, a junior from Paraguay, said he first developed a fascination with chess when it was offered to him in second grade.
“It’s more than just a hobby, it’s a way of life,” he said, calling chess a “battle of the minds.”
Most members jumped into chess at an early age, competing at hundreds of tournaments as kids. That may be why some of the members said they aren’t too nervous about the upcoming tournament.
“My strategy is to just continue to take my time, look at my options carefully, and just go out and play chess,” said freshman James Black, who led his former middle school, I.S. 318, last year to win the National High School Championships.
With all the accomplishments under his belt, including representing the U.S. in the world youth chess championship, Black said his friends no longer teased him about being a “chess nerd.” Similar to many other team members, he hoped to snag a chess grandmaster title by the end of high school or in college.
Ostrovskiy said he considered himself a veteran among the group. He is ranked the 76th best chess player in the nation, regardless of age, and owns hundreds of books about chess strategies which he’s been reading in anticipation of this weekend's tournament.
“A very important characteristic to have when playing chess is a fighting spirit,” he said. “That coupled with a very stable nervous system.”
Still, the price is high when facing the chance to win the team's eighth national victory.
“More is on the line,” he said. “It’s the most important stop and a win would be a culmination of all of our efforts.”
Students said they’re also motivated by the chance to meet the President of the United States, as their predecessors did in 2007.