Trinity’s Chess Society was founded by Rev. John McGaul in 1838 during a time when college students were scolded for spending half the day playing chess instead of learning algebra. In 1941, M.B. Yeats, son of the Nobel Poet Laureate W.B. Yeats, served as Honorary Secretary for a session. After their sixth win of the Leinster Chess Union’s Armstrong Cup in 2014, however, the society began to see a loss in activity.
It was at the start of this academic year that the society reemerged from the ashes. It was second year student Rossa Brennan, a new and enthusiastic player of the game and also the society’s current Secretary, who kick-started the society back up again. Working in solidarity alongside society President Conor O’Donnell, Trinity’s very own chess star and one of Ireland’s highest rated players, they organised an official AGM and got the society registered with the Central Societies Committee (CSC).
“Our team’s actually quite good, there are a lot of great chess players in Trinity,” says O’Donnell, high on the back of the team’s first online match against the University of Warwick, from which Trinity emerged victorious.
The society holds weekly meetings each Thursday via Zoom. They have also wasted no time entering into the 2020 Online Chess Championship League, where they will compete against over 100 teams from around the world. The competition boasts a delightfully worthy first place prize of $2000.
O’Donnell explains that, recently, the society has been receiving a lot of emails from students with very little chess experience who want to get involved and learn more. “The Committee has been trying to facilitate this. So, during our weekly meetings, we’ve been having more experienced players help our beginners improve”.
Turning to how the society, and O’Donnell himself, feels about not being able to partake in real life games due to the world’s ongoing pandemic status, O’Donnell says that chess is “suited to online formats”.
“Since the country’s first lockdown back in March, online chess has seen a big boom overall. It’s a lot more casual than playing tournaments in person as you could imagine. When you play online it’s pretty quick, which I think is attractive to beginners.”
O’Donnell’s love affair with the chess board began at the age of nine in an after school chess club where his teacher immediately recognised his talent, advising him to enter into competitions. “People usually have this image of chess in their heads of being very slow and boring, which can sometimes be the case when you play in person”, he laughs, “but I still get excited about it”.
Now, as the youngest Irish chess player to ever beat a grandmaster at the age of 13, the game has given the fourth year engineering student vast opportunities with regard to travelling for tournaments around the world. “I’ve been to places where I would have never imagined going otherwise. Last year, I went to play at the World Under 20s Championship in India which was really cool. I’ve played for the Irish Senior men’s team in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Serbia, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria.”
When asked if he sees the big shot chess title of Grandmaster in his future, awarded to players by the World Chess Organisation FIDE after passing a rating of 2500, he gave a modest response: “Realistically I don’t expect it to happen…but I don’t think it’s something that’s impossible.”
The board game of chess is known as “the gymnasium of the mind”, and any and all students, even those with little or no experience who have an interest in this strategic play, are encouraged by the society to give it a try. O’Donnell and the rest of the committee are looking forward to the society’s future, which – it it continues as it is going – likely holds a string of successes.