Gill St. Bernard’s juniors Peter Horton, Akshay Patel, and Tyler Tellalian traveled to Orlando, Florida from December 2 through December 6 to test their chess technique against the best in the nation at the US Chess Federation’s National Championship. The trio secured their spot in the competition after an impressive first place win in the 11th Grade New Jersey Chess State Championship, and with the coaching of Ian Prevost, Upper School computer science teacher and faculty advisor to the Chess Club, the players returned ranked 8th in the nation.
The accomplishment was even more impressive considering the lack of meaningful practice opportunities available to the boys during the pandemic. Like with many extra-curricular activities, face-to-face playing time was limited over the past year and a half, chess competitions were postponed, and the bulk of training was completed online. Except for playing against members of the GSB Chess Club, the boys had not been exposed to the endurance or concentration required for competitive play.
“We prepped for 2-3 hours each night leading up to the competition, but we could have used more,” admitted Akshay. “The competition was brutal!”
“We played two rounds on Friday, three on Saturday, and two more on Sunday,” explained Peter. “There were over one thousand kids in the room, and each match had the potential to last three hours.” For those who were wondering if they did the math correctly, yes, that is up to nine hours of chess a day.
The tense hours spent pouring over the board did not dampen the boys’ spirits, and in fact, it inspired them to want more. All three plan to continue training in whatever fashion they can, and they hope to return to the national stage again next year—and place in the top three.
While this goal may seem ambitious, club advisor Prevost believes they have what it takes. “It’s been amazing to see how much progress they’ve made in the previous two years,” Prevost said. “Over COVID, they each gained 500 rating points in strength, which places them in the top 5% of players their age who are playing online.”
The boys are proud of the team’s success but are even more grateful to have carried on the GSB legacy. “This is the second time in four years that GSB has been to Nationals,” said Tyler. “We have a lot of history in chess, and we want that to continue in the future.”
GSB last earned a spot at Nationals in 2018, and that talented trio, all seniors, returned home with a 2nd place trophy. Based upon this pattern of success, the boys’ dream of building a lasting GSB chess dynasty is within reach, and the recent excitement will certainly carry the team well into the next championship season.