Meet VUSM’s Newest Student Org: Chess Club!
by Emma Mattson
Med student Colin White-Dzuro learned how to play chess as a kid, but he didn’t start playing in earnest until last year— March, to be exact.
As the pandemic narrowed social possibilities across the country, White-Dzuro started looking for safe and socially distanced ways to connect with friends. Chess was the perfect answer.
Soon, he was playing online regularly with a few med student friends, including M4s Daniel Pereira, Danny Zakria, and Tanner McArdle. They all had similar stories: each had played chess in elementary and middle school but eventually lost interest. For some of them, shelter-in-place marked the first they had played chess in a long time.
“We had been playing on and off and discussed our interest in the game over the past year or so,” recalled White-Dzuro, who is currently on a research year out. “We all have these online accounts, and when we see the other one online, we’ll challenge them to a game.”
In December, when White-Dzuro suggested forming a club to take this interest to a communal setting, his friends surprised him by saying they had had the same idea. Especially given the game’s rising popularity, the Spring 2021 semester seemed the perfect time to launch.
The co-founders’ plan? Host a one-hour chess gathering each week to talk about strategy, discuss opening moves, and— of course —play chess together.
Chess Club’s Inaugural Meeting
The new student org got a chance to try out this strategy on Wednesday, January 20, at Chess Club’s first meeting. Per White-Dzuro, around thirty people were in attendance at the virtual get-together.
“It went so well,” White-Dzuro said. “We had more people than I expected show up. Everyone was incredibly interested; everyone was super excited to learn.”
To kick off their time together, the club founders talked about three basic principles of chess: center control, piece development, and protecting the king by castling. Then, they chatted about their favorite opening attacks and checkmating patterns.
Though some attendees were chess aficionados, others had never played a game in their life— and that’s kind of the point.
“It’s a good experience for any level because there’s so many people that play it,” co-founder Tanner McArdle said. “There’s going to be people that are absolute prodigies, obviously, and then there are tons of people who have absolutely no idea what we’re doing. Most people that play chess, myself included, we’re not great.”
You certainly don’t have to be a chess prodigy to have fun. Once you’ve mastered a few basic principles— like the ones the club teaches on Wednesday nights —the board opens up and you can go from there, McArdle said.
During an era marked by social distancing, chess remains highly accessible, in more ways than one.
On the one hand, chess tutorials, matches, and competitions can be found everywhere online. You can connect virtually with people you already know in-person, like White-Dzuro and the other co-founders did, or you can sharpen your skills playing against partners halfway across the world.
But chess is accessible in another way, as well.
“It’s something anyone can pick up and start playing and be challenged by,” co-founder Daniel Pereira said. “For med students in particular, it’s something that really gets the intellectual juices flowing.”
Social distancing norms had already set an interest in chess bubbling around the country in early 2020. When Netflix released “The Queen’s Gambit” last October, that interest exploded.
“It’s kind of sexy now to play chess and be good at it,” Pereira said. “I will say, we started playing before ‘The Queen’s Gambit.’ We made it cool before it was cool.”
For co-founder Danny Zakria, chess’s appeal comes from its unique pairing of strategy and surprise.
“You continuously get better and think of new ways to play the game and new ways to win,” Zakria said. “There’s millions and millions of combinations; every single game is unique.”
Chess Club is more than the chance for med students to learn a new hobby. White-Dzuro, McArdle, Pereira, and Zakria all want it to be a community of friends connecting over a shared interest. All med students are welcome— even if you’ve never played a game of chess in your life.
“Vanderbilt does such a good job of creating these little communities and sub-communities within its space,” White-Dzuro said. “I hope this can be one of those sub-communities where people can come together who don’t previously know each other and find additional ways to connect over these trying times.”