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Backed with $800 from the Ryerson Students’ Union and the Office of the President, six members of the Ryerson Chess Club rented a van and drove to Ottawa this past January. They were on their way to the Canadian University Chess Championship.
The four-hour drive was filled with motivational trash talk, despite the fact that the club had never won, or even competed in, a tournament.
“They were so encouraging to each other, I didn’t get it,” says chess club founder and former president Ehab Shehata. “The whole car ride they were like ‘We’re going to kill all these other universities.’ (I was thinking), ‘You guys are going to get killed.’”
The Ryerson students found themselves in an unlikely position when they successfully made it to the final round of the tournament. With three of four games played, the team needed only a tie to win the competition.
“One of our guys says to us, ‘Hey I was offered a tie, should I take it?’” says Shehata. “All we needed (was) a tie to win.”
Encouraged not to take the offer by club member and current president Kabeer Sethi, the team declined it. They went on to win the game and the championship.
However, the chess club hasn’t always been so triumphant.
When the club first started two years ago, they held meetings for a handful of members in the fourth floor hallway of the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre.
“As people walked by I would just basically yell at people to come play,” says Shehata. “You know, one day at a time.”
Now, the club has a weekly room booking in the Student Campus Centre. On Thursday nights, anywhere from 10 to 20 students will stop by to play a few rounds of chess, eat pizza and catch up with friends.
“(Chess players) are generally the most friendly people,” says Shehata. “Everybody’s smiling, nobody’s yelling, nobody’s angry with each other. With chess, that’s the best thing, the community.”
New members of all skill levels are welcome at any point in the year. More experienced members are available to teach beginners the game. The club also invites higher-ranked guests to run workshops two to three times a semester.
“It’s a lot of fun because we don’t focus too much (on strategy),” says Sethi. “(But) it’s like any other sport, any other game. You have a good time, but you also want to win.”
The Ryerson Chess Club meets on Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. in the Student Campus Centre.
This story is part of a series. Every day this week, The Ryersonian showcases one of Ryerson’s clubs to highlight what it’s all about.