It was checkmate for Ramaz when the Frisch School chess team won the Metropolitan Yeshiva League championship last week, avenging its loss to the New York school in last year’s championship.
The Paramus school advanced to the championship in Manhattan after it beat out the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway in the semifinals with a score of 5.5 to 1.5. The 6-1 Ramaz win brought Frisch its first chess championship in nine years. The Metropolitan Yeshiva Chess League has 16 teams in four divisions from northern and central New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the North Shore of Long Island.
"It was very intense," said 16-year-old junior Daniel Rosen of Teaneck. Except for Frisch’s one loss, "we were able to overcome whatever they were able to mount. We just dominated them."
Rosen, who played on Frisch’s sixth board, began entering tournaments when he was 6 years old. When he was in third grade, he played in a tournament sponsored by the New Jersey State Chess Federation and won the title of best third-grade player in New Jersey. Although he has not played much in tournaments through the U.S. Chess Federation since then, he has enjoyed playing in the Yeshiva League.
"As a kid, it focuses your mind," he said of chess. "You really have to concentrate to be good at the game. There’s no luck in chess, it’s all a mental edge."
Many of the official tournaments through the USCF are held on weekends, which makes participation difficult because of Shabbat, said Josh Block, a 15-year-old sophomore who played on board ‘. His older brother Matt, a senior, played first board as team captain. The younger Block is a candidate to replace his brother on the first board next year.
Like Rosen, Block also earned honors at a young age from a N.J. Chess Federation tournament. He was named best second-grader in the state, but because of Shabbat restrictions could not play in more tournaments.
State federations are part of the overall U.S. Chess Federation, which governs most competitive chess in the United States. USCF members are assigned ratings based on their skill level, up to 3,000. The Yeshiva League games are unaffiliated with USCF. Players do not have to be USCF members, and the games do not count toward rating points.
Although some tournaments, like the USCF’s U.S. Amateur Team East tournament held every year in Parsippany, allow chess players to compete as a team, most tournaments are based on individual play. Like the USCF team tournament, in the Yeshiva League the team wins the round only if a majority of its players win their games.
"I had only played individually in tournaments," Rosen said. "With a team it’s completely different. If you win your game but your team loses, you still lose your match."
"It was more important that we won as a team than [as] an individual," Block said. This was only one of the lessons the students took away from playing, he continued. "Chess helps you become a better student at the Frisch School. It’s all about strategizing and can be applied to homework and how to attack problems in life," he said.
Unlike standard chess tournaments, where opponents face off against each other as individuals, even in team tournaments, the Yeshiva League allows players to have a second student sit at the board to keep up with the game’s notation and kibbitz, a Yiddish word that Leo Rosten defined in "The Joys of Yiddish" as to give "unasked for advice" and that the chess world has adopted to mean to offer advice during a game. The method allows more students to participate, said Frisch’s chess coach Pete Tamburro.
"They’ve grown tremendously as players this year," Tamburro said of his team. "If they do the work, we should be in good shape for the fall to defend the title."
Tamburro, who also writes for the USCF’s monthly magazine Chess Life, has provided the students with some 60 pages analyzing opening moves, and their commitment to study has impressed him.
"It takes a lot for kids to learn about all the openings in chess," he said. "Every kid here knows how to study, so they did it. On first and second boards, the kids played the stuff we had gone over. I was very pleased."
The winning players were seniors Block and Avi Prince, juniors Yoni Adler and Dan Rosen, sophomores Block and Donny Kanner, and freshman Meir Genut. Seconds on the team were juniors David Schuster, Matt Sherman, Avi Lowenstein, and Ian Leifer, sophomores Dana Neugut, Jon Katz, and Josh Yammer.