Checking off a new way to engage students

Chess club is quickly becoming popular at Cedar Grove-Belgium High

TWO KNIGHTS MADE by Cedar Grove-Belgium High School technical education teacher Craig DeRuyter (top left) are part of a chess set that is just for show because it’s so exquisite. Junior Logan Depies (top, left) and sophomore Maya Claerbaut contemplated their next moves in a game on March 4. Chess club advisor Elliot Friedel (below) helps Claerbaut think through a scenario. Photos by Mitch Maersch
Ozaukee Press Staff

Chess enthusiast Logan Depies has seen the TV series “The Queen’s Gambit,” but he prefers playing the king’s gambit instead.

The Cedar Grove-Belgium High School junior knows his chess openings and was a driving force behind creating the school’s latest club that teaches students how to play the strategic board game.

The club started with nearly 10 people and quickly doubled as friends invited friends.

Depies is the top player and sometimes explains what moves he may execute and why to less-experienced opponents.

One of Depies’ relatives taught him to play, and he used to take on his sister’s ex-boyfriend. He became so hooked he even did a speech in forensics on an introduction to chess.

“It’s just a fun way to get to know people,” he said. “I’m not bad at it.”

Technical education teacher Elliot Friedel, the club advisor, sets up end-game scenarios in which students are taught to gain the advantage from a disadvantageous position at every other weekly meeting of the club.

He likes that teenagers must think deeply and develop strategy.

“There’s no way to avoid that level of involvement in the game,” he said.

That’s what senior Harley Stern likes about the game.

“It’s very creative and interesting and gets your brain going,” he said. “I think there’s an art to it too.”

One of the keys in chess, Depies said, is spatial awareness “because you focus on one area of the board.

“People choreograph their moves really heavily,” he said.

Depies’ friend and rival, sophomore Ian Andersen, said, “You always think many, many, many moves ahead.”

Andersen’s mother taught him to play and before long he eclipsed her level. He used to use the chess board at Paradigm Coffee and Music in Sheboygan.

“You need to think to play this game,” he said.

Andersen and Depies, both cross country runners, often face off with fitness on the line. The loser has to run a number of miles.

“He wins twice out of 10 times and he thinks he can beat me,” Depies said.

While strategies in chess are scripted — the king’s gambit calls for the pawn in front of the king to move first ­— adjustments have to be made on the fly.

“The first time he beat me I was going off my opening and not seeing what he was doing,” Depies said. “I was overconfident in my ability and it cost me.”

Andersen prefers the scholar’s mate strategy, which can put opponents in checkmate in four moves.

If he plays white, Depies always employs the king’s gambit. If players act accordingly, it’s possible to win in four moves. His record is seven.

If Depies plays black, he always uses an opening move called the Silician Defense.

Regardless, at some point Andersen and Depies must go off script.

“We can accurately guess (our moves) but sometimes we throw a wrench into our plans,” Depies said.

The pair sometimes play against a computer or against people online from across the world.

“People online tend to be way more skilled,” Depies said, which he prefers to bad computer programs.

“They are meant to make mistakes early but are flawless at one point.”

The general rule of thumb, Friedel said, is to control the middle of the board. But sometimes he doesn’t try that strategy to draw in opponents before gaining the edge.

“Sometimes, sacrificing (pieces) is to your advantage,” he said.

Each piece should only be handled once in the first 10 moves, he said, and players should use the castling move that involves the king and rook.

The queen remains the most powerful piece.

“If there’s a possibility you can take it, it’s over,” Depies said.

While the high school club is new, this isn’t the first time Depies played chess at school.

In middle school, eighth-grade math teacher Brandon Langer, also Depies’ cross country coach, ran a club for a couple of years.

“Langer is an incredibly good chess player,” Depies said.

In high school, one of the elements piquing students’ interest is the chess pieces themselves.

Craig DeRuyter, who teaches advanced manufacturing and had students make their own paddles for the school’s popular ping pong club he started last year, created pieces with the school’s computer-numeric-controlled lathe, using wood from a big box store.

Some of the pieces are so detailed they are just for show.



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