Inside Varsity Chess: An Unnoticed Dominance

Inside Varsity Chess: An Unnoticed Dominance

Thomas Dobbs, Features Editor

When students picture the pride of JBS Athletics, teams such as soccer, field hockey, football, and tennis are likely the first to come to mind. Although it is true that more successful teams often steal the limelight, the JBS chess team has achieved a quiet, yet consistent success.

After amassing an 8-0 regular season last year, the chess team stormed through the postseason to reach the gateway finals, setting up a showdown with their primary rival, Ladue High School. JBS and Ladue ultimately tied in the finals which resulted in an unprecedented ruling to declare Ladue and JBS “co-champions” of the Gateway League.

Bomber Chess — which is not an official sport, but can be played for fitness credit — is on a historic run: their last reported loss in a regular-season match occurred on December 7, 2016. Despite the chess team’s previous success, they lost four of their five starters after Jason Zhou, Avi Goldberg, Matthew Yee, and Collin Bradley graduated in June. In order to fill the void, varsity chess now relies on juniors Andrew Wang, Reza Mofidi, Reilly Dillon, Sam Illvicky, and Jacob Plax, along with sophomore Julius Hollander-Bodie and freshman Patrick Whiteford.

While Andrew Wang (’21) jokes that one must be in either fitness or C-Reserve basketball to participate, it is important to note that chess welcomes players from all grades to compete and continue JBS’ success. The “varsity” chess team consists of the best five high schoolers, while middle schoolers often compete against other middle schoolers from around the St. Louis region by serving as reserves.

For some, the Burroughs chess team championship run last year may appear to be a predictable extension of their regular season dominance. In actuality, a state title has been far and few between for the JBS chess team.

Known for his sarcastic and witty humor, math and computer science teacher Alex Wu, a co-sponsor of the chess team along with Mark Smith of the History Department and Tim Baker of the Music Department, compared the Burroughs chess team’s postseason record to that of the 1990’s-era Buffalo Bills. (The Bills’ four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990 to1993 all resulted in losses.) Mr. Wu’s comments, in fact, carry considerable truth. After winning five straight Gateway League Championships, the JBS chess team has recorded a second-place finish in each of the past five years at the state level.

While many teams are discouraged by such defeats, Wang, the de-facto captain of the team, shares his motivational message for their season ahead: “[I encourage my teammates] to play their best every day in an attempt to improve. Whether or not we win is less important than improving as a team.”

We want the school to see that playing chess, in addition to being really fun, is really good practice for developing critical thinking skills and creativity.

— Mr. Smith

Although returning to a title match will prove a significant upwards battle after losing four of five starters, the JBS varsity chess team has embraced that challenge with a resolve and desire to learn. Dr. Smith, the faculty sponsor of chess, shared: “We want the school to see that playing chess, in addition to being really fun, is really good practice for developing critical thinking skills and creativity.”

Despite the chess team’s postseason losses, their success in the last few years has been nothing short of remarkable. Although chess is a spectator-free sport (for the most part), their dedication deserves more school-wide recognition.