Chess boards, 15 in total, were arranged on a semicircle of tables during Weaver Wednesday on Feb. 3. On one side sat 15 players, most of them looking either deep in thought or mildly frustrated. They were short on opponents, as the only other people participating were Assistant Professor of Russian Jamie McGavran ’02 and Scott Treiman ’17, founder and president of Kenyon’s chess club. The two men would make a move, then shift.
They were playing what’s called a tandem simul, or two players playing the same game as partners and alternating moves without knowing theirpartner’s intentions; the real difficulty of these games lies not in their opponents, but in their own inability to communicate.
While it might have looked like McGavran and Treiman had their work cut out for them, it was their opponents who needed to be worried.
Treiman, who has been playing chess since fourth grade, is a national master in the U.S., placing him in the top one percent of all players in the country. The title of national master is only achieved after a player reaches a rank of over 2,200 (chess uses a flexible rating system called Elo in which one’s change of score after a match is calculated using the difference of the two players’ scores).
“Really, my mom was just looking for an activity for me that didn’t involve sports,” Treiman said. “She was looking for a way to calm me down.”
Chess, it turned out, was the only after-school program that didn’t involve some kind of physical activity. While making a kid hooked on sports sit down and play chess may seem doomed to failure, Treiman had the opposite reaction.
“I started to have some early successes,” Treiman said. “It turns out that when you get to come home at the end of the day with a big trophy, it’s a big motivation to keep playing.”
Though tournament wins (and the accompanying trophies) may have hooked Treiman on chess, his love for the game goes much deeper.
Treiman talks about chess as if each game were a living entity that grows as it wears on. For Treiman, each game is a chance for discovery.
“Chess is a very humbling game,” Treiman said. “There are positions you encounter that no one has ever encountered before. There’s so much to learn and it can be incredibly frustrating at times.”
After beginning his slow climb at a ranking of 1,000, Treiman inched his way up the ladder until he reached national expert (achieved at 2,000), at which point he decided he wanted to be a national master.
It was a goal Treiman never thought he would achieve, especially since he hadn’t achieved it by the time he came to Kenyon.
“I said to myself, ‘OK, now it’s time to focus on school,’ so I didn’t practice,” Treiman said. “I had only one tournament scheduled when I went back home and I thought that maybe I could just maintain my score.”
But Treiman did more than just maintain his score. In what he humbly described as a “series of lucky successes,” Treiman finally pushed his rank the last few points he needed to reach the level of national master.
“It was surreal,” Treiman said. “When I finally became a master, there was a lot of celebrating.”
Treiman said he doesn’t have any intention of “going pro,” and has, in a sense, retired from progressing his rank as he turns to studies and internships. But Treiman has no intention of ever giving up on the game itself.
Back at Weaver Wednesday, Treiman and McGavran have just finished their last game. Their results? 24 wins. One draw.