Every Thanksgiving, Weinberg senior Isaiah Katz recalls going over to a family friend’s house and playing chess on an ornate glass set, the adults watching as “these two kids duke it out over the chessboard.”
But at around age 14, Katz — who grew up playing chess against his late grandfather — said he stopped playing because of stigmas the board game carries, like being nerdy, solo and quiet.
Now, as a member of 64 Squares, Northwestern’s chess club, Katz said the group is breaking a lot of those stereotypes.
McCormick junior Steven Han, the club president, said that entering this year, he, Katz and treasurer Nicholas Neu wanted to “make the club a lot more official,” which included establishing a formal meeting time on Sundays in Harris Hall.
Katz, the team captain, said the club plays a lot of variants of chess, including one-minute games and others with five-minute time controls.
The group also plays a team-oriented version of chess known as “Bug House” or “Crazy House.” When participants take a piece in the four-person game, they pass it to their partners, who then place it elsewhere on the board.
“It gets loud,” Katz said. “It gets kind of wild — there are pieces flying everywhere, stuff just being thrown from player to player. It’s great.”
Han, who played on his high school chess team, said the game is a great way to meet other people. Several weeks ago, a team of nine players from Purdue came to Northwestern for a match. While the match was close, Purdue did eventually win, “like their football team the week earlier,” Han said.
Still, the group achieved the main goal: having fun in a casual setting. And looking ahead to the new year, Han said the group plans to head to West Lafayette, Indiana for a rematch during Winter Quarter.
“You can be six years old, you can be 70 years old, and you can bond over a chess game because you can be the same level,” Han said. “Chess is like a language people can speak.”
The group also competes in the Chicago Industrial Chess League against other schools like the University of Chicago and companies like Citadel and Google.
But Katz said the club is open to people of all skill levels, with several players trained to coach who give formal lessons. He added that people with different interests — from political science and math majors to a chemical engineering major and economics doctorates — have participated.
“It’s a fun game — we have fun playing it,” Katz said. “Our club meetings are never going to be silent. It’s never going to be you go in and there are a bunch of people staring intently at boards and… not enjoying themselves. It’s always going to be people laughing, people talking, people yelling at each other, people asking why you made that ridiculous move.”