The GBS chess team is ranked 6th overall in the state IHSA

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Glenbrook South Chess Club team members (left to right): Klem Bazavluk, Ben Steenbergen, Stas Tsvirko, Nicky Ladan, Johnny Raicu, Marcin Mietus, Andy Ordway and coach Steve Szpisjak. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Hicks)

The Glenbrook South High School chess team recently placed sixth overall in the IHSA state competition. “GBS has never won the state championship and that’s a big goal every season,” said Steve Szpisjak, math teacher, Titan Learning Center and head chess coach.

The team has finished 6-1 downstate multiple times since 2000, and only twice has the team finished under 5-2. South has placed in the top three in many tournaments over the years.

“Most notable to me, outside of the state series, is Evanston one year and the conference winner another,” Szpisjak said. “GBS missed the Evanston tournament this season but finished third in Palatine in December and second in the January conference.”

Szpisjak said that over 100 teams participate in the IHSA Chess Championships and that GBS has played every year since 1996. In the past, all schools could participate. They would qualify by playing about six competitions and one tournament. In recent years, there was also a sectional qualifier because the 148 teams had almost filled the ballroom at the Peoria Civic Center. Szpisjak added that there were 126 teams this year.

GBS Chess Club was founded in 1995 by six students and sponsor Mike Boyle. Boyle was then the manager of the Math Lab, where the club also met. The members of the club played primarily for fun and did not enter any of the available high school competitions.

According to Szpisjak, that changed within a year. Social studies teacher Daniel Hicks and science teacher Ken Doody came on board and the triumvirate coached the team from 1996 to 2000. The original goal changed from just having fun to competing on eight boards, meaning eight players per team.

“Competitive chess is a game where a person has to find a balance between fun and seriousness – that balance became every player’s new goal, and with that came winning as a team,” Szpisjak said. “I joined the team in 2000. Before I came the only tournaments GBS competed in were Friday conference games, about eight a season. Evanston in early November and are reporting the end of the third quarter at the time.”

Beginning in 2001, GBS Chess Club attended other tournaments such as West Chicago and Palatine, the Conference tournament and Sectionals, and State, Szpisjak added.

The team’s best finishes were fourth in 2001, although there have been near misses with fifth in 2021 and sixth this year.

This year there were 15 students in the team. The season ended with a state in mid-February, but students continue to build their skills by playing chess online. Three of the club members were girls. Szpisjak is the head coach and Hicks and Mike Boyle, now managers of the World Language Lab, are assistant coaches. Doody is retired. The club meets Monday through Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Resource Center.

Team members who consistently motivate the team were juniors Nicky Ladan, a National Champion – Board 1, and Stas Tsvirko, Board 2. Tsvirko even brought his laptop and shared opening analysis with his teammates to prepare them for events.

“It’s no surprise that they both finished with 6.5/7 and 6/7 in the State class. Junior Marcin Mietus is the top pick, posting a very respectable 6.5/7 on board 7; it was his first year at the club,” said Szpisjak.

Since COVID, GBS has formed two online versions of the Glenbrook Chess Club Team via lichness.org and chess.com. Students are encouraged to join these clubs to help them.

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