By Sarah Beth Costello
Brows glisten and fingers twitch during the final stages of a long battle between two passionate competitors. Tension is evident as the board quickly becomes vacant of pieces. Eyes widen and collected breaths are released with the subtle tap of a fallen king. Checkmate.
Intense competition between Elon chess players can be expected every week at Chess Club meetings, when players of all ages, backgrounds and levels of ability challenge and learn from one another.
“Our club is kind of unique because we have total community involvement,” said Aaron Peeks, associate professor of sociology and the adviser of the Elon Chess Club.
Students, faculty, staff and even children attend the Tuesday evening meetings for instruction, as well as friendly competition.
“Chess is about puzzles,” Peeks said. “If you love puzzles, you’ll love chess.”
Peeks has played chess since high school and temporarily sacrificed his undergraduate studies to compete in national tournaments his freshman year. He said he loves the beauty of the game and the ability to relate chess to life.
“Chess keeps my brain sharp,” Peeks said. “Chess provided me with a level of self-control. It’s made me a better planner.”
One of Peeks’s goals as the faculty adviser is to shatter existing stereotypes that often accompany chess.
“Chess is (often) seen as a nerdy game for geeks,” he said.
He advocates that chess is not solely for individuals with high IQs, impressive GPAs or a collection of pocket pens.
Peeks also wants to interest more women in the game. With female representation at less than 10 percent in national tournaments, Peeks said he believes it is important to encourage women to play a game often perceived as explicitly masculine.
“There’s a more feminine side to chess,” Peeks said. “There’s artistic beauty and motion, but a lot of females think they can’t grasp it.”
Jennifer Shahade, a two-time American Women Chess Champion and the author of “Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport” is attempting to combat misconceptions by empowering women and girls through the art of chess.
Shahade is the co-founder of 9 Queens, a nonprofit organization in Tuscon, Ariz., which provides chess instruction to girls and youth in the inner city.
“It’s important to teach chess to girls and women because chess improves confidence and rewards healthy aggression,” Shahade said. “For cultural reasons, these are areas in which women often don’t feel as comfortable as men. Chess is a medium where boys and girls can compete on an equal playing field.”
Peeks, a self-proclaimed feminist, said he believes women should have equal opportunity to participate in chess and would like to interest more women in the game.
Peeks hopes to attract more male and female students by spreading the word through public tournaments and a “Beat the Professor Challenge” Sept. 22 at College Coffee. Students who can beat Peeks will receive a $10 gift certificate.
“Come to chess club,” Peeks said. “It’s uncanny how chess can improve academic skills. Research shows kids who play chess have higher GPAs.”