Checkmate! Chess Fever Spreads Among Students at Berkley High


Henry Robertson

Senior Ryan Rubenstein is looking over the board in preparation for his next move.

A group of students are all crowded around a student sitting down in their chair, glaring at their computer screen, focusing intently on the pixelated pieces. Suddenly, one of the students notices something greatly important—a crucial and brilliant move and erupted with excitement as the game was in their hands; with the next move, the game was over, as the student that was previously sitting down managing the pieces stood up and celebrated with their friends as they had just put their opponent in checkmate! This has been a common occurrence in classrooms this school year at Berkley High. This year, chess has seen a rise in popularity as more and more students are constantly playing and chatting about it. The game has been around for over 1500 years, so why are students and people around the world starting to play chess now?
When COVID struck, schools faced the unknown, and quickly, online learning was put in place. Today, paper is almost nonexistent, and laptops are the primary tool used for schooling. Now that I’ve been back in school for a full year, there have been many trends in different computer games, but no trend has lasted or been as popular as this one. The website has hit a new record, with now over 100 million users on their platform. The website has gained over 102 million users since January 2020, a 238% increase, and a very small percentage of the increase were students at Berkley High who signed up and never looked back.
Senior Griffin Straske was one of the many who signed up on this year. Straske acknowledges the rise in popularity, saying, “I have friends that have never played before signing up.” Straske already learned how to play chess at a young age, but he’s never indulged in the online world of the game. Straske explains how “it took me a couple of days to get used to it, but now I can swiftly move and pre-move my pieces with ease.” Straske might find moving pieces a simple task, but for beginners, the names, movements, and strategies can be extremely confusing. The lack of knowledge was one of the reasons why Senior Hunter Robertson never tried to learn how to play, but now with, Robertson has found a new home to practice and absorb new information. He describes how “ taught me how to play chess and learn all of the terms and piece movements through all of the different game modes.” Robertson noticed students starting to play chess towards the beginning of the year; many of his friends joined as well, and one reason he thinks it became so popular is because “you can play on your phone or computer; it’s easily accessible. Also, it’s a fun game to play with friends in your free time.” Excitement, convenience, and a wide range of features are why many students at Berkley and also across the world are tuning in and signing up for
Although teachers may not enjoy seeing students quickly switch to different tabs as they walk around to disguise their newly started chess game, there are a lot of positives to teens learning how to play. Chess provides many benefits that can help students for the rest of their lives. According to the University of Minnesota, “Chess training and practice supports the development of higher-order thinking skills—like problem-solving, decision making, critical thinking, planning, and even creative thinking.” Therefore, learning how to play can have a wide variety of positives besides playing during class or betting against your friends in friendly matches. Senior Riley Shafritz noticed a strange correlation, saying, “When I think about it, some of my smartest friends are the ones that played chess when they were younger.” When Shafritz learned about the beneficial effects, he stated, “I’m definitely making sure my kid is an avid chess player when he grows up.” By developing the habit of playing chess, you’re only reinforcing great practices that can help you now by improving your academic performance or, in the future, by providing an enjoyable hobby.
Overall, the ancient game of chess is a welcomed trend at Berkley High that has seen students jump for joy or slump in sadness as emotions run high while playing. Even though the new trendy game can be a distraction in class, it might be the best one yet as it allows students to use different strategies and skills to achieve the ultimate goal, checkmate. These strategies and skills can be not only used while playing chess in Mr. Giarmo’s English class but also in your future jobs and endeavors. So, it might not be a bad idea to take time out of your day to put your mind to the test and join the growing crowd of chess enthusiasts at Berkley High.