Hart House Chess Club hits attendance high, attracting hundreds of students in first-week events!

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Some consider chess a complicated, largely inaccessible and even unpopular game. Despite its celebrated ability to improve people’s focus and develop their creative and strategic thinking, chess is still seen by many as a recreational activity that appeals to only a narrow group of people, leaving large crowds unmoved.

But here comes Hart House Chess Club (HHCC) to break this stereotype and restore the Royal Game to its rightful place, at the top rank of student preferences!

In its initial week of activity, almost 200 students from UTSG, UTM and UTS have joined together with alumni and staff to celebrate the return of the Hart House Chess Club for the new school year!

“When I saw that almost 150 students signed up for the chess club on Clubs Day I knew that that was a very good omen for the days to come!” says Jimmy Bartha, the Treasurer of the chess club.

His prediction proved well-founded as the club’s welcome event, which took place at the Hart House Reading Room on Sept. 15th, was a huge success with a record-breaking crowd of more than 100 students gathering to hear the introductory presentation, meet the club’s execs, become members and play lots of casual chess!

“This was an unprecedented turnout in recent years,” says Ben Hahn, the Alumni Chair of the club.

“I don’t know the exact numbers, but the Reading Room was so full it seemed as if we almost doubled in size since last year!” adds Chris Knox, the Secretary of the HHCC and a national chess master.

So many were the chess enthusiasts who attended the inaugural event that around 6 p.m. the hosts were forced to seek reinforcements, asking the Hart House staff to bring in more tables and a huge cart of extra chairs.

The attendees were treated to delicious pizza and light beverages and many of them participated in the special event of the evening: a raffle for a gift-card, awarded to the student who could write the correct solution to chess puzzle and place her answer in the lottery box! Fardin Syed ’21, a freshman in Physical and Mathematical Sciences, was the winner, and was awarded his prize amid the audience’s applause!

And though the welcome event marked an incredible success, there was curiosity among the execs as to whether this promising turnout would prove sustainable in the long run.

It turned out that it was!

A week after the inaugural meeting, another record crowd turned out at Hart House showing that the chess club is not, after all, a one-trick pony! Figures recorded by club execs reveal that more than 100 students showed up at the Hart House Reading Room during the course of the evening, either to play chess or to attend the newly-introduced chess classes for beginners and intermediate level players! An unprecedented 50 students joined the chess club in just two days and more than 25 people attended the chess classes.

“Every year, the chess club hosts a number of social, recreational and competitive events. But this year we took the extra step of offering free chess lessons to our members who want to learn chess or improve their game,” says Chris. “Our club is currently the proud back-to-back Canadian Universities Chess Champion so we do have a very competitive team. At the same time, however, we strive to transfer our knowledge and spread our passion for chess among the broader U of T community. It is to students who are making their first steps in chess that these weekly classes are principally directed!”

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The record numbers confirm just how much chess can capture students’ imagination. Such was the enthusiasm of the new members that, on both Fridays, the chess club remained open until midnight with more than 20 students still playing chess after 11 p.m.!

“It’s my second year as a member of the chess club and I am amazed by the incredible passion of the massive crowd, which came twice to Hart House this year from all corners of the campus!” said Amar Singh, a third-year undergraduate student at UTSG.

“This passion is a great incentive for us to work harder still to put on an even better calendar of events for the many enthusiasts who follow the game,” added Peter Vuong, the External Events executive of the club.

Of course, this would not have been possible without the hard work of the team of execs, the kind support from the Hart House Administration and the invaluable voluntary service provided to the club by its longtime friends, Edward Chan, Alex Ferreira and Andrew MacMillan. We are really looking forward to making this year the best experience for our new and returning members!