Hillsdale stu­dents play chess. Sarah Borger | Courtesy

Members of the Hillsdale College chess club per­formed well at a tour­nament Sat­urday.

The tour­nament, sanc­tioned by the U.S. Chess Fed­er­ation and held in Toledo, Ohio, was for­matted in the “Swiss system,” in which players who win their first match play other winners, and losers play losers. Unlike a simple bracket, the system allows all par­tic­i­pants to play the same number of games against players of similar skill, while still crowning a winner.

Hillsdale’s four par­tic­i­pants were split across three skill divi­sions, according to their USCF ratings. In the second division, sophomore Gregory Bon­vissuto and junior Thomas Reusser, the club’s vice pres­ident, each won three games and drew one. Their three-win per­for­mances placed them first and second in the division, respec­tively.

Junior Sam Cassels, the club’s pres­ident, chose to play above his rating in the tournament’s most dif­ficult division, and placed twelfth out of fifteen. “Last time I played in the middle,” he said. “I went 4 – 0. And then I played up and went 3 – 1 in the top section. So I think I belong there, I just need to give my rating some more time to catch up and that only happens by playing up.”

Founded three years ago, the club was ini­tially a venue for players who enjoyed “puzzles and a few friendly games,” according to Cassels. A recent influx of tal­ented members, however, has injected new energy.

The club does not receive money from the school, so par­tic­i­pants covered their own reg­is­tration fees and expenses. Cassels and Reusser hope to get money to replace the existing timers in the Union, which they say are low quality and breaking down with use. “We use them every week,” Cassels said. “And we use them for hours.” They also believe funding for tour­na­ments could encourage stu­dents turned off by the cost “to feel more welcome to come.”

In an effort to reach out to a broader base of players, Cassels also plans to start offering simple lessons on the fun­da­mentals of the game during the club’s Friday meetings. He said that even rudi­mentary instruction could sig­nif­i­cantly help inex­pe­ri­enced players. Serious players study the game exten­sively— Reusser, for instance, esti­mates that he studies about an hour per day. He appre­ciates that “there is no luck involved what­soever. It’s just your skill versus your opponent’s skill… and there is no bound to how much you can improve.”

Cassels said diligent study of the game also yields ben­efits in other arenas.

“There is so much about chess that’s really rel­evant to real life, like time man­agement, planning things out, con­se­quences to actions, prepa­ration and study skills [and] con­cen­tration,” Cassels said.

The club’s newly insti­tuted ranking system also presents an oppor­tunity for players to map their improvement. Each week, members can chal­lenge another player on the club ranking ladder; if the lower ranked player wins, they leapfrog their opponent’s ranking.

Club lead­ership hopes to take the club further by increasing tour­nament par­tic­i­pation and by holding tour­na­ments on campus for all inter­ested stu­dents.

Cassels says the future is bright for chess at Hillsdale, and that the club merits college support.

“The virtues of chess are similar to many of the virtues that the liberal arts stand for,” Cassels said.