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West Orange High School Chess Club Places 6th in the World Championship Amateur Open

TAPinto logo TAPinto 3/13/2023

PARSIPPANY, NJ – West Orange High School’s (WOHS) Chess Club spent three 12-hour days during President’s Day weekend competing in the World Championship Amateur Open East in Parsippany with 1,292 other student and adult chess players. In the end, they took sixth place.

The World Championship Amateur Open is the largest tournament of the year, and professional grandmasters come from all over to play. It's called "amateur" because there are no cash prizes and focuses completely on who plays the best.

Chess player mom Ellie Dresser reported, “By day two, they were 92nd place among 323 teams. For their sixth and final game, they played the Cornell University chess team and tied them.”  

The players were happy with their accomplishment. David Milstein shared, “I had a great time with the team. We almost got fifth place, and there is always next year.”

Teammate Zander Venutolo explained, “When we placed 6th in the tournament, I think everyone on the team felt a bit of every emotion.” He continued, “While some people might have been let down thinking we might have had a chance of winning if they had won one more game, I think at the end we all were happy to be able to play together as a team.”

Venutolo noted that everyone on the team matters in chess, so it’s not about the amount of wins someone gets that will help a team place first, it’s about the motivation and persistence. He commented, “In that category, we believe our team placed first just because of the pure humor and chaos that breaks out after each game.”

Dresser described what the competition was like, “It was mentally and physically exhausting for them. We often laud our sports teams and forget about the quieter sports like this one." She added, "These kids are amazing and did West Orange proud.” Dresser said that many of the players have played and trained since very young ages, and all have private coaches.

“Chess players spend hours in front of a board of 64 squares, planning out moves for 16 pieces like they're taking over the world, 2.25 inches at a time. To these kids, the queen's gambit is an opening for white, not a miniseries,” she explained.

Dresser talked about the intensity of chess, “It is mentally and physically exhausting. Many chess players are very thin because they eat little when they play, between rounds or during game days because they need their blood to be in their brains, not in their stomachs digesting food.” She mentioned that there’s no time for bathroom breaks during tournaments.

On Tuesdays the students usually practice at the West Orange Chess Club, and each Wednesday they travel to another school to compete against their best chess players. Sometimes they journey as far away as Sparta but also visit closer towns like Bloomfield.

Dresser called chess the great equalizer of sports. “I‘ve seen kids and adults crying their eyes out over a tough loss. I've heard adults lose their cool when losing to a 12-year-old kid, and I've seen a 10-year-old silently besting a 40-year-old experienced player.“

She sent out a special thanks to the coach, Andy Chan.

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