Central chess team has winning moves
Red Devils continue impressive streak of standout performances during season, state final
Last updated 2/26/2020 at 4:02pm | View PDF
Hinsdale Central senior Perry Zhao said he was pretty proud of his chess skills coming in to high school. Now, four years later, he credits his involvement on the school's chess team for prompting adjustments in his own attitude.
"I was really cocky as a freshman," admitted Zhao, one of three team co-captains. "I think being on the chess team has really taught me about being a good person in general and a lot of valuable skills in leadership and dealing with people and playing with dignity and playing humbly."
A winning formula, to say the least. And winning has long been a big part of Central chess. The team won its 13th straight conference title and its state sectional tournament heading into the IHSA state finals Feb. 14-15 at the Peoria Civic Center. The team went 5-0-1 through the first six rounds, setting up a final-round showdown with Stevenson. Unfortunately Stevenson prevailed, and the Red Devils wound up in eighth place.
Coach Dylan Canavan said it was exciting to be in the mix at the end.
"Just to have that chance was huge for us," he said. "It's still pretty awesome."
It was the team's 11th consecutive top-10 finish at the state tournament, and Canavan said the ultimate outcome often comes down to the luck of the draw.
"We beat some great teams down at state," he said. "When you win early, you end up playing only teams that have won. We played progressively harder teams."
One of those opponents was Walter Payton College Prep, with the contest ending in a tie. Co-captain Dinesh Jaliparthi, a senior, said it was a match Central should have won.
"That draw was unfortunate," he said, while also citing the game's fascinating penchant for sudden twists. "That's the awesome thing about chess - one blunder and it's all over."
Senior co-captain Ankush Moolky said the nerves never completely go away, even as a three-time state tournament competitor.
"It's always really nerve-wracking because you see people watching you. And your performance doesn't just affect you, it affects the whole team," Moolky said.
He recalled the 2018 state final, when he won his first five games and was flirting with going undefeated.
"All of a sudden I was completely lost. I was so nervous and scared, and I could literally feel my heart beating through my shirt," he related.
He recovered and rescued perfection.
"I ended up winning that game and winning my seventh round game as well," Moolky said.
Zhao said his highlight this year was in the victory against Illinois Science & Math Academy.
"It came down to my board, where I squeaked out a draw that got our team the overall win," he shared.
Canavan said the team's senior class experience was vital, but that Central chess is known for its balanced squads across the seven boards at play in a match.
"Our strength is always our depth," he said. "We tend not to have any superstar chess players. So our low board players, they get points in early and take some of the pressure off of the high boards."
Jaliparthi said the camaraderie throughout the season was a major contributor to the team's prosperity.
"Our team was really strong. We were all a tight group and close friends," he said.
Being able to represent the school he treasures through the sport he loves has been a source of profound satisfaction.
"It's awesome because this school has meant so much to me in the way of academics and developing my social life. It's great to be able to compete on such a big stage and bring the success back to the school," he said.
Zhao said he was especially gratified to share his chess knowledge with younger team members.
"The best thing about chess team was just watching all these kids, who I helped fine-tune their play, get better as the year went on," he said. "I personally enjoyed teaching a lot of the freshman and sophomores on different aspects of chess."
Zhao said he looks forward to coming back to Central post-graduation to participate in the annual alumni days. All three co-captains said they intend to continue playing competitively after ending their tenure as Red Devils. Moolky said chess has a lasting place in his life.
"It's partially because I am competitive. I also like the fact that there's so much in chess that no one really knows everything about the game. It allows you to be very creative," he said
Canavan spoke about the fun of being able to oversee a group that's all-in for pushing themselves and one another.
"It's really, really great to have kids who like to play," he said. "It's an attractive sport for the kinds of minds that we've got here."