EASTHAM — Most high-school sports have struggled to maintain a playable season this year, due to strict safety regulations and rescheduled games in a shortened season. But one club sport at Nauset Regional High School has managed to keep its season going strong while adding new members: the Miles Tibbetts Chess Club.
The Independent covered the club’s origin and early success in December 2019. The Nauset squad began competing in the South Coast Conference Interscholastic Chess League in 2015 against students from Sturgis, Wareham, Dartmouth, Plymouth South, Plymouth North, and Martha’s Vineyard.
Sean Mulholland, who teaches Latin at Nauset High, serves as the club’s adviser. Nauset won the league championship in 2018 and 2019. In the winter-spring season of 2020, “We had a phenomenally competitive team,” Mulholland said. “We were looking forward in March to play the championship match against Martha’s Vineyard. We were the top team in the league, and they were the runner-up.”
But they never got to play that match, because the Covid-19 lockdown brought everything to a halt. Even so, the pandemic proved to have a silver lining.
Mulholland corresponded with chess advisers at Plymouth North High School and Sturgis Charter School to coordinate a way for students to play online. The three schools organized a network of more than 30 students who play each other online at chess.com on Thursdays at 4 p.m.
“Once a week, we play interior tournaments,” Mulholland said. “It’s been fun, because we’ve gotten to know different people and been able to do some teaching and learning along the way.”
Students meet via Zoom, and Mulholland randomly assigns pairs to play against each other. When the Miles Tibbetts Club won the league tournament in 2019, it had six committed members, but most were upperclassmen. Senior Michael Whitney is the only Nauset student from that group who’s still in the club.
A number of underclassmen and beginner chess players felt encouraged to join the club now that it’s online and a little more casual.
“I joined out of curiosity,” beginner Olivia Horton said during the club’s weekly match session on Feb. 11. “It’s an inviting space to learn and grow. It’s not as competitive as previous years.”
Beginners are encouraged to ask experienced players questions mid-match if the two are paired up.
Sophomore Suzanne Burns, from Provincetown, and freshman Cypress Rushby, from Wellfleet, are also newcomers.
Rushby said that Mulholland, whom he had as a teacher this year, encouraged him to join. “He told me he’d teach me how to play,” Rushby said. “I haven’t been doing that great, but I’m still learning. I’m trying to convince my sister to join.”
Mulholland keeps ladder rankings of the students that are updated each week. The rankings can be skewed if students skip a match: Whitney, for example, is considered the club’s best and most experienced player, but he was ranked 14th after Feb. 11 because he’d missed a week or two.
Some newcomers have shown great skill. After Feb. 11, Nauset underclassmen Tye Moore and Will Bilowz stood at the top of the ladder rankings.
“I had never heard of him,” Mulholland said of Moore, who even beat Whitney this year.
Bilowz, a freshman, won the previous week’s internal tournament on Feb. 4. “It wasn’t until this summer that I was playing online,” Bilowz said. “I became an intermediate over the summer.”
Nauset sophomore Alexander DuToit from Truro beat Mulholland in a match earlier this month. “I’ve been playing since I was 10,” DuToit said. Even though he grew up playing on a board, he is a fan of the online version. “The clocks make it move quicker.”
Chess.com allows players to set a time limit for each turn. Other players can tune in to watch a match and vote on what they think the next move will be — it’s called “vote chess,” and the computer keeps a leaderboard of how many watchers guessed correctly.
“Sometimes you can understand the player’s psychology,” Mulholland said. “It keeps people involved and engaged.” Being online has, in some ways, been easier than in person, he added. You don’t find “10 people crowding around each other [so] you can’t always see. The more games, the more chance to watch other people play.”
Mulholland said he was happy to have these promising newcomers involved, since he wasn’t sure when Covid hit whether the club would keep going. He’s hopeful the South Coast Conference Interscholastic Chess League will be able to hold a big online tournament this coming spring.