Checkmate: the rise of the Carolina Chess Club

Peter Close, the president of the Caroline’s Chess Club and a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, first became interested in chess while a student at Wake Tech and began watching live streams from Chess.com on Twitch.

“It’s a very good game,” said Close, who transferred to Carolina last year. “And it’s beautiful because I always thought that the smallest person in the world couldn’t beat the tallest person in the world, physically. But there is no physical barrier between two people playing chess.

When Close started his sophomore year at Chapel Hill he wanted to dive deeper into the game, so he contacted the Carolina Chess Club. “There wasn’t a lot of movement,” he says. “I contacted the current president, who was involved in other groups, and he told me I could take over.”

Today, the club has more than 70 members, nearly half of whom actively participate in the weekly online game due to COVID restrictions. In-person games – or “over the board,” as it’s called – have been a different story thanks to COVID. Carolina Chess Club member and sophomore Victoria Sagasta Pereira says the club don’t always stick to the traditional game. Sometimes they play as a team, where the club splits into two groups and competes against each other.

“Or ‘hand / brain chess’, which is really fun,” says Sagasta Pereira. “You are in a team of two and you are not allowed to communicate with your partner. You have to say a song, then your partner has to decide which movement to make. “

Carolina Chess Club President Peter Close performs with club member Victoria Sagasta Pereira on the steps of Wilson Library on July 30, 2021, on the University of North Carolina campus at Chapel Hill. (Johnny Andrews / UNC-Chapel Hill)

Sagasta Pereira first became interested in chess in high school. “It’s a bit of a clumsy story,” she said. “I had a crush on a boy in my first year of high school. He was in a chess club. I considered learning to play so that I could join a chess club and hang out with him there, but never followed through. I went out with him in his senior year and I said, “You never taught me how to play chess!” He finally taught me how to play, but we broke up after that.

She didn’t play much between high school and the start of her freshman year at Carolina, but by January she knew she wanted to join a club and socialize more. “I was like, ‘I know it’s COVID, but I really should be a part of something. “I was looking through the clubs and I was like, ‘Oh, there is a chess club.’ “

She says, “This is a great group of people. “

The club took advantage of Zoom by inviting world-famous players to speak at meetings. “I was able to have a conversation with Danny Rensch, who is the vice president of Chess.com,” says Close. “He is an international master.

Close plans to invite more professional players to speak with the group this academic year. “We can get these talks from the grandmasters because they don’t have to fly here,” he says.

Close also chatted with Duke’s chess team about establishing a friendly partnership and competing against each other. “We travel to Duke sometimes, and they travel here,” he said. “We’re going to have it so we can lecture and learn chess together.” It’s not necessarily just competition.

While chess can be intimidating, especially for those just learning the rules, Close wants anyone interested in joining to know that the club is all about having a good time. “It’s very beginner friendly,” he says. “A lot of people are afraid of failure. We are here to have fun. We are also going to have a lot of food. Food is important.


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