Chess wins eighth consecutive GMC championship

Shrija Shandilya | The Chronicle

On November 28, Mason High School’s (MHS) chess team continued their dominant reign over their Greater Miami Conference (GMC) with an eighth straight championship.

Mason won its 10th GMC trophy in 11 years in dramatic fashion, defeating runner-up and rival Sycamore 13-0-1 to 12-1-1. In the first round of competition, both teams were 8-0-1 with a tie against each other, and won over the rest of the conference. In round two, the Comets narrowly defeated the Aviators 3-2, enough to seal the conference title.

The team also finished in 11th at the US Chess Federation 2023 National High School Championship. 

Senior Jason Wang won the conference Player of the Year award for a third straight season due to his efforts at the conference championship. He said that the team’s dedication and consistent practice helped prepare them to compete.

“It’s a lot of practicing and analyzing games,” Wang said. “There’s a bountiful amount of possibilities, it just goes infinitely on and there’s so many lanes and alleys to go down.” 

Three Comets, junior Pranav Pendurti, sophomore Abhinav Pullabhotla, and Wang were named first-team All-GMC. Sophomore Sanvi Jha earned second-team honors. Wang attributes the recent success of the team to an increased dedication to education and talent on the team. 

“We just had a lot of talented players come in and get a lot better recently and I was particularly happy when one of our boards used something we talked about in lectures,” Wang said.

Over the past few years, chess has globally skyrocketed in popularity. Wang said this is due to the rise of online platforms and the hit show “Queen Gambit.” However, he said the success and increase in talent on the Mason team comes from the culture around academic sports and the resources they are given in Mason. The interest in chess draws in players that join the team.

“Chess used to be some sort of obscure sport,” Wang said, “I think the community has made chess into something that’s a lot bigger than it used to be with people in middle school playing enthusiastically and transitioning to high school.”

Wang said although chess is played individually, it is still a team sport and team chemistry is very critical.

“We talk outside of class all the time and we’re just good friends,” Wang said. “It makes it easier and allows us to help each other in a more cohesive manner.”

Jha earned second-team All-GMC honors for the second consecutive year. She said the team offers her an outlet to do an activity she enjoys competitively. 

“It’s been a good way for me to step back and take my mind off school,” Jha said. “Even outside of the competitive aspect, I do just enjoy playing chess.”

While enjoyment of the game is a constant for all members of it, there is still a competitive aspect to chess. To combat this, Jha said she grounds herself and takes a step back.

“The competitive pressure can be a lot but we have to just play the game of chess,” Jha said. “It’s just a simple game and sometimes we get in our heads but we just step back and look at the board in a clearer way.”

To further the camaraderie of the team, teammates will often watch and analyze each other’s matches, she said. 

“It helps to have somebody else there if you need advice,” Jha said. “After games we all come together and see what we can do to improve for the next work.”

Jha said she continues to play chess because of how the game is always evolving.

“There’s always so much you can learn from every game and each one is different,” Jha said. “You always want to go back and try not to make the same mistake and keep trying new things.”

Pullabhotla also said that there’s a good friendship between the team and it’s something that’s helped the success of the team over the past eight years.

“We’re all good friends and talking about our games helps out a lot,” Pullabhotla said. “After our games we check up on other people and it helps us improve each other and improve together.”

Pullabhotla said that while playing with stronger players, it is important to remember that everyone can make mistakes and it’s important to stay focused. He said this mentality has also contributed to the team’s continued success in tournaments.

“Every single player can make a blunder and lose regardless of their rating,” Pullabhotla said. “I go into it with a mentality that if you play your best chess you will win and if you get scared you’re only going to lose.”

Jha said the team’s collective passion for chess is what has allowed them to each be motivated to perform well. She said this creates a lot of improvement and is an aspect of teamwork that has been essential to Mason chess.

“Everyone is willing to prepare for the tournament because everyone is passionate about it,” Jha said. “We all work well together to help each other improve so we can win.”

Wang caps Mason chess career with third GMC Player of the Year honor