Updated: January 18, 2022 at 6:26 pm
For many people, watching The Queen’s Gambit may have been their first introduction to the ins and outs of a game of chess. But the DC chess scene is alive and kicking, growing in size and diversity, with a primary hub just outside the Foggy Bottom subway station.
GW Chess Club has hosted events over the past year and gathered with community members to play games. Club members said they enjoy DC’s chess scene for its diversity and community-building aspect, and they hope to continue to remove barriers to the game, such as harassment and perceived exclusivity, for newcomers.
Ian Ching, the treasurer of GW Chess Club, helped organize the events and regularly visits the Foggy Bottom subway station to play games.
“Last spring we played a lot with a local community here at the Foggy Bottom station, and I think we went there almost weekly, biweekly to play a few games,” Ching said.
Ching said the club hopes to continue to popularize chess within the GW community and to attract members who may have been put off by the game’s perceived exclusivity.
“What we like to do at the chess club is we do it on the tables in District so that everyone can come,” Ching said. “Unlike if you put it in a room in District, someone has to open the door and walk in, which is often, that will be a barrier itself.”
Ching helped organize a simultaneous chess event this fall, a game in which one player faces multiple opponents at once. John Griffin, a member of the community who has played chess since 1960, played with 15 members of the club, won 13 games and drew only two.
“It’s the mental challenge of outsmarting your opponent,” Griffin said. “It’s kind of a war game. For some people it is recreation. But when you do two things, it’s about consistency. Play a lot. Study a lot.”
Justin Diamond, the president of GW Chess Club, attributes much of the club’s increase in membership over the past year to the popularity of the 2020 Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit.
“The TV show probably did more for chess than anything in chess history,” Diamond said.
Diamond said he enjoys the analytical aspects of the game, and he studies the history of chess, his own past games, and chess tactics. He has also found that chess has broadened his focus, as some of the skills needed to be successful in chess, such as analytical thinking and patience, translate well to academic settings.
“The best thing about chess is that it’s really good for developing good study habits,” Diamond says. “My GPA has gone up quite a bit with my chess score. It helps your concentration.”
After learning the basics as a kid, Diamond started playing chess again in 2020, coming daily to the Foggy Bottom subway station to hone his skills. There he met Griffin, who helped him play the game and took him to his first tournament.
Simon Sholom, a GW Law alumnus and current DMV resident involved in the DC chess scene, regained interest in chess during his retirement after playing alone for college.
“The future of chess is young – the young audience is also very diverse,” said Sholom. “A higher proportion of women than other age groups, a much higher proportion of all kinds of ethnic groups. That’s cool to see.”
Sholom has discovered that chess has a way of eliminating differences and bringing people together, which is a big part of his love of the game.
“Once a game starts, it doesn’t matter who your opponent is,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re a 9-year-old girl or a very old man or what language they speak, because the language you speak is on the chessboard.”
When sophomore Maddie Bedard joined GW’s chess club, she was surprised to find that she wasn’t the only woman in the organization dedicated to a typically male-dominated game.
“I was shocked that I wasn’t the only woman on the team,” said Bedard. “I went in expecting it to be a bunch of guys, and maybe I’d be the lone wolf of the girl group, but surprisingly there were a few girls. But it was definitely soothing to see another performance.” having women playing chess.”
This post has been updated to reflect the following fix:
In an earlier version of this article, Simon Sholom’s name was misspelled. His name is now spelled correctly. An earlier version of this post also had a quote from Sholom wrong. The quote is now updated.