UCLA football hopes chess will help subdue opponents

Joshua Kelley anticipated his blow by studying the images of the match. Linebackers plugged the openings created by the offensive line, producing a conundrum for the running back.

Should he cut out? Fall in the middle of the line? Charge into a hole that didn’t materialize?

Kelley, UCLA’s star carrier, felt like he knew what to do because he was used to thinking ahead.

He had spent hours doing it with his pawns, his bishops and his knights.

Kelley and the Bruins are using chess as a way to make smart, quick decisions that they hope will give them a leg up on their opponents when they open the season against Cincinnati on Aug. 29.

“I feel like if you simplify it that way,” Kelley recently said of the team’s new lawsuit, “it’s kind of like you’re not reacting, you’re just anticipating. “

Constantly looking for an edge, UCLA coach Chip Kelly brought in strategist Seth Makowsky at the start of spring training to teach players chess. It was intended as more than a leisure activity, intended to improve analytical skills and problem-solving abilities.

“It’s just an opportunity to expand their thinking and what they do,” Kelly said. “And it’s a fun thing to do. Probably better than playing video games.

Chess was originally targeted for quarterbacks at UCLA, but became an almost team-wide endeavor after cornerback Darnay Holmes stepped in as only he can.

“Darnay being Darnay,” said quarterback Austin Burton, “[he] was like, ‘I want to participate in this.’ ”

Defensive backs, running backs and offensive linemen are among those who participated. Makowsky posted several photos on social media of Bruins staring at a chessboard while contemplating their next move. An accompanying video shows Holmes explaining the importance of developing the discipline to imagine things unfolding on the chessboard as well as on the field.

The game has sparked an ongoing debate over who is the best player on the team.

“That’s still to be determined,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said, “depending on who you ask.”

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson fakes a handoff to running back Martell Irby during a spring training session.

(Steve Galluzzo / For the Time)

It’s probably not good tackle Jake Burton, who admitted losing to quarterback Colson Yankoff “in about five strokes.”

Quarterback Chase Griffin signed on and keeps Sam Marrazzo as the team’s chess masters, but Thompson-Robinson noted he defeated Griffin, a veteran of the game, despite being a rookie In chess.

To complicate matters further, Burton said he “killed” Thompson-Robinson.

Makowsky declined to speak to The Times for this story, but told Reuters this summer that playing chess gives top athletes a competitive edge.

“Everybody’s super physically gifted,” Makowsky told the news service, “but what starts to separate the best elite performers is how they handle things, their mindset, their mentality, how they can recognize patterns, how they can almost see five leads.”

Makowsky, who has worked with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and several Olympians, said what’s important isn’t chess, but how it applies to the principles of all sports played by chess players. athletes.

“Chess is just a vehicle for my training; it doesn’t matter if they understand it or not,” Makowsky told Reuters. “It’s even better if they don’t, because what we’re focusing on isn’t necessarily the chess itself. [It’s] how to determine moves in a certain order, how to value certain pieces, how to go through a certain decision-making process.

Griffin said he noticed that as he got better at chess, he got better at football. It probably helps that the thought process is similar in both efforts.

“Every play or every move,” Burton said, “you have to calculate it because you have to see where you’re attacked and where you’re attacking somebody. So when I’m in the field, it’s kind of the same : where am I being attacked, where am I being blitzed?

“If they turn, someone comes, that’s when I’m attacked. And where do I attack, where does the game go? Is it outside? Is it a passing game? Is it cover 1, cover 2? In a way, where are we trying to get the ball? »

The advantages of the game varied. Holmes said it helped him relax and not fear failure. Kelley said it made him see football in an entirely new way.

The hope is that the new pursuit leads to new results for a team that has just lost three straight seasons.

“The way we work it and the way we think about it and the way we speak through our movements,” Griffin said, “that really translates to the field.”

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