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How COVID-19 Has Impacted One St. Louis Chess Player

Dorsa Derakhshani teaches the weekly Chess and Psychology class on the Saint Louis Chess Club's Youtube Channel.
St. Louis Chess Club
Dorsa Derakhshani teaches the weekly Chess and Psychology class on the St. Louis Chess Club's YouTube channel.

Growing up, I was very interested both in chess and the medical field. As a pre-med student, I wish I were educated enough and trained enough to help during this very uncertain time. However, being a chess player, the one thing that has kept me motivated and inspired during the past month has been the St. Louis Chess Club. I didn’t expect the third term of my grandmaster in residency to be all online, but luckily in the game of chess, all you need is an online chessboard and someone to play.

As with many other organizations, the St. Louis Chess Club has been temporarily closed to the public since March 17, with only a few staff coming in every day and the bulk of full- and part-time staff working from home. While we are at the club, we have been practicing social distancing and constantly using disinfecting sprays and wipes.

I’ve been teaching and streaming at the chess club since last summer, and I’ve enjoyed teaching my weekly classes of Ladies Knight and Chess and Psychology. Thanks to the technology of online chess boards along with Twitch.tv and YouTube, the club has had the opportunity to continue teaching all of its classes and lectures online, allowing players from all around the world to engage with the instructors and streamers, to improve their chess understanding and to simply be entertained and enjoy the game! There is a large number of committed and loyal viewers from countries such as India, Italy, Spain, Canada and the U.S. Since all St. Louis-area colleges have suspended in-person classes after spring break, I’ve been able to stay busy and involved with additional Chess Club classes and streams. This gives me a real sense of accomplishment, as I can still give something back to the ever-growing chess community.

In the last month, there have a lot of new events happening on the STLCC’s Twitch and YouTube channels. For example on April 22, they hosted a Chess 960 online tournament. For those not familiar with Fischer Random or Chess 960, the pieces are shuffled around the first rank every round, which makes this game unique and innovative compared to a typical classical game. I enjoyed playing in this online Chess 960 tournament, and I know I will be able to continue the experience of chess creativity and entertainment. There have been weekly staff tournaments happening through lichess.com allowing the club staff from various departments to engage in the competitive side of playing chess. Additionally, chess clubs from around the country have been collaborating and are regularly competing in online tournaments against one another to engage their members and audiences in new and different ways. So far, I’ve played in three of the four online matches and have scored 4.5/6. 

Looking back at the past month, the time has flown by for me. I’m very glad to have been busy with chess and my university studies. I don’t know what life will look like post COVID-19, but I know that as long as we follow the advice of medical professionals and keep busy, we can get through this. In the meantime, thankfully, we have chess.

Dorsa Derakshani is an Iranian American women’s grandmaster, international master and a FIDE trainer. She moved to America in 2017 and has been representing the U.S. ever since. In 2019, she gave a TEDxTalk about freedom of choice and accompanied her team to achieve bronze in the World Prestigious University Chess Invitational in Tianjin, China. She is a member of the St. Louis Chess Club, which is a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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