In a clash of Kings… Hornet Chess Team Takes First Place

By Hussein Fardous ’16 ( In the interest of full disclosure, Hussein Fardous is on the chess team)

Winning first place at the 2015 CIS Cullman Tournament, the newly formed Chess Team exceeded all expectations and left Mr. Josh Haberman, the team director, with high hopes as he plans to send the team to another tournament on May 16. The Chess Team was formed this semester after constant demand from competitive chess club players who felt they had what it takes to contend. The team was formed for several other reasons, according to Mr. Haberman. It was formed because of the level of confidence displayed by the club members, to end Murrow’s winning streak, and to show that Midwood doesn’t just excel at athletics but also at scholarly sports. Chess has various benefits such as sharpening foresight and concentration. Consequently, many chess players tend to do better on standardized tests. Mr. Haberman used his years of experience to begin on a strong note. He began with the three fundamental concepts that every game should revolve around: protect the king, protect every piece, and control the center. He taught the players renowned openings, such as the Sicilian and the Torre attack, and later on taught them tactics such as discovery and forking. “In teaching the members, I focused on the purpose of each game, movement of pieces, strategies, and tactics,” said Mr. Haberman. “The two most important lessons I made sure they understood were that all the pieces were well defended and that they thought before they made a move.” Mohammed Kamil ’16 said, “The various tactics and drills that Mr. Haberman taught me were beneficial. I significantly progressed and got better after every lesson.” Mr. Haberman said his main focus was laying down the foundations and quickly getting practice in because that’s where a player truly learns and pinpoints his weaknesses. Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday during period 10, the team members play games with each other and notate as the director watches over them and points out alternative moves that could give them an upper hand. Many times, the members play the director himself. “I progressed from the tactics we learned but the practice was the most effective in my development to a better player,” said Siddique Shafi ’16. “Within each game, I kept improving because I practiced my openings, lessons, concentration, planning skills, and in the end I reviewed all the mistakes I made.” Mr. Haberman soon realized that the team was driven, quickly learned and developed, and had some experienced members. Therefore, he decided to send the team off to the 2015 Cullman tournament in which each member played a total of four games “to get their feet wet.” “I sent off the team to this tournament to expose them to a setting that was much more intimidating than the informal setting they were accustomed to in school,” said Mr. Haberman. “I didn’t have any expectations for this tournament. I purposely detached myself from any hopes because it was simply the team’s first tournament and I wasn’t aware of the varying level of competition they would face at the event.” Bilal Azhar ’16 said, “We entered the tournament not expecting much. We didn’t have any experience and we didn’t know how good the players were going to be there. Of course we expected wins here and there but expected losses for the most part.” According to Shafi, the team’s fear heightened as they entered the tournament. They saw dozens of trophies in a glass case and many players already sitting down with their mentors practicing techniques and fundamentals. As a result, they began practicing tactics with each other before the first round started. Azhar stated that the whole team made sure that they kept their composure in every game, thought over every move, made sure they left no pieces hanging, watched out for diversions, and lastly, notated. Notating is crucial because it allows the members to recreate the game they played later on and discuss it with the director to avoid falling for the same traps. During the first round, six out of the eight members of the team captured a win. Later on in the second round, the Chess Team won another six games, but one of the members was disappointed after losing from a Scholar’s Mate, losing several minutes after the game began. “Scholar’s mate is amateurish,” said Xie ’16. “Our members felt discouraged when they lost to it but they learned from their mistakes and were fully functional after the second round.” Shafi said, “Overall, we felt great after the first two rounds. Everyone collectively fishing wins significantly increased our morale which helped us throughout the remainder of the tournament.” In the last two rounds, the team advanced to the upper brackets as they ended with a series of victories to win the tournament and with Xie claiming the first place prize. Several members on the team claimed individual prizes as well. “The tournament was an exciting and enjoyable experience for the Midwood Chess Team,” said Xie. Mr. Haberman said, “I was full of pride from the significant progress made by the team and from their domination in a citywide event. Now, with full support from Mr. Michael McDonnell, who is excited about the team’s future and accomplishments, we will continue to build foundation to sustain the success of the team in the short and long term. As for the upcoming tournament on May 16, I am expecting the team to continue their momentum.”

Polina waits for her opponent to make a move.
Polina waits for her opponent to make a move.

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