Chess club rises

After COVID killed club, new members’ interest ignites at FHS

  • Farragut High School Chess Club president Justin Li brings back this club to FHS after its activities stopped in 2020. - Tammy Cheek

  • FHS Chess Club member William Hunter Mullins, a junior, and Emily Xu compete during a tournament at Cedar Bluff Middle School Aug. 28. - Tammy Cheek

Farragut High School Chess Club, led by president Justin Li, is back in action.

Although the COVID pandemic halted the club’s activities, Li decided to revive the chess club.

“I’d say my love for the game inspired me,” said Li, who has been playing chess since the fourth grade. “I really hope that the chess club can be more inclusive for everyone.

“I know a lot of people look at chess as this genius game, that you have to be really smart to play,” he added. “But, through my years, I realized anyone can play chess. It’s not something super elite.

Saying he most enjoys the friends he makes with the club, “I think it’s something everyone can enjoy,” Li added.

“After you play a game, you’ve invested so much emotion and thought into it, you can usually meet up with the (other) player afterward and have a whole discussion about the game. And what I’ve found is through the game you meet so many awesome people and make so many more connections you never would have made if you didn’t play.”

Li was introduced to chess by his father, who asked the boy if he wanted to play a game.

“Even though he crushed me, I still had a lot of fun,” he recalled. “I got a coach in the fifth grade, and then I won regionals that same year. That really just kick-started my entire interest.”

Li’s U.S. Chess Federation rating is about 1,600, which he describes as an average tournament player.

Now a junior, Li recalled the school had the previous chess club when he was a freshman, but “during COVID, I think they stopped activities. I picked it up again this year.

“I thought it would be really awesome if I could get a bunch of my friends to play with me, and what started as a friendly club became much more,” he added. “I realized we could actually start a (school-sponsored) club.”

While it has 50 members in the club’s group

chat, about 30 attend the meetings, which occur from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., the fourth Wednesday of every month, in the classroom of their sponsor, FHS physics teacher Brian Parton, at FHS. Students interested in joining the chess club can come to the meetings.

“It’s open to everyone,” he said. “There is no fee or membership requirement”.

Other officers are vice president of competitions, Jason Lee, a national master; vice president of activities, Ivy Zhang; historian, Jesse Hoa; and treasurer, Josh Lin.

During their meetings, Li usually gives a presentation on upcoming tournaments or provides chess strategies.

The club also participates in out-of-school tournaments, such as a Cedar Bluff Chess Tournament, which took place early in the school year.

In October, the club hosted its own tourney at FHS.

“Those tournaments haven’t been as big as previous ones,” Li mused. “I think that’s due to COVID, and as we start recovering, I’m sure more people will come out to play.”