Maryland tackle Spencer Anderson is a chess genius off the field

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Spencer Anderson has been fascinated by chess since playing his first game as a kid at summer camp. He attracted strategy and anticipation. Now a senior tackle in Maryland, Anderson applies his skills to the chessboard on the football field, where he anchors the right side of the Terrapins’ offensive line. Heading into another Big Ten matchup Saturday against Indiana, victory in the trenches will be key as the Terps look to checkmate the Hoosiers.

“The way I see it, the O-line is like the pawns, the guys who start everything. We’re out there in the front lines,” Anderson said. “I look at it as an offensive side, it’s like you have 11 players against 11 other players and you never know what the next person is going to do. It’s just calculated moves all over the field.”

Chess came with a steep learning curve for Anderson, to be expected for an 8-year-old. He recalls that for the first week he played he was constantly losing games to older campers and trying to gain an understanding of the pieces and their movement on the board. But after learning from his losses and watching others play, he quickly improved. A month later, Anderson entered a camp chess tournament and faced off against Camper at age 14.

“I finished third, which I wasn’t very happy with,” Anderson said. “But I was kind of shocked at the same time, like I made it.”

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The experience ignited Anderson’s passion, but his chess career was put on hold as he struggled to find people to play against – until he joined the chess club at Bishop McNamara’s high school in Forestville. Rumor has it he never lost a match.

“I heard there was a group that played chess and I was like, ‘I want to be a part of it,'” Anderson said. “I just sat there and they were shocked because they didn’t know how I was winning or what I was doing. Three train mates and all sorts of stuff.”

Anderson said he still employs a chess-like mindset on the soccer field. He specifically mentioned the importance of anticipating, understanding what your opponent is trying to achieve and knowing how they will react to your actions.

“[If] If you see the safety path going down or the turns going a little differently than they normally do, you know some types of lightning are coming,” Anderson said. “You only guess what’s next, because in chess you always want to have the upper hand over your opponent. I think it’s the football field equivalent because if you know lightning is coming you can react faster instead of being behind the block or being delayed.

While the Terps’ offensive line has put together solid plays this season, there’s still room for improvement. On Saturday, Maryland ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 14 teams in sacks allowed, averaging 1.8 per game.

In last Saturday’s loss to Purdue, the Terps (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) conceded three sacks and junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was often under pressure. The task doesn’t get any easier against Indiana (3-3, 1-2), who sit fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 2.3 per game.

“They’re trying to play fast on defense,” Maryland coach Michael Locksley said of the Hoosiers. “They are a strong lightning team. They’re a team that’s going to attack our quarterback. About 60 percent of snaps, for all down and distance, are pressure. That’s a pressure from six, seven, eight men that we have to face with composure and confidence.”

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To decipher Indiana’s exotic looks that the terps had nothing to do with this season, communication is key. Responsibility lies along the entire offensive line.

“Sometimes the center only sees so much because he already has his hand on the ball. He’s already down, so there are already things he can’t see,” Anderson said. “We can look at the rotation of the safeties or linebackers. You can see the linebackers change something or change someone’s hand weight and stance just by trying to anticipate the next move and anticipate what you’re going to do.

As Maryland prepares to face the challenge of Indiana’s passing rush, Anderson continues to work on his anticipation on and off the field. Although he can’t play chess as often as he would like, Anderson finds time to hone his skills against computer opponents. Going forward, he said he will continue to pursue his hobby and hopefully find more human opponents to play against.

“I want to play more,” Anderson said. “I feel like the old guy in the park with my watch and chessboard.”

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