Shreyas Sakharkar had just given the younger members of his chess club advice on opening moves when he moved over to the game being played by the older teenage boys.
He leaned over their game, made some observations and offered suggestions to the slightly younger player, Taij Suryavanshi — who was able to recover from a slight deficit. The older player, Rushikesh Pande, immediately objected.
“Yo, don’t tell him everything!” said Pande as everyone chuckled. Sakharkar went back to the younger players to help them out as he answered questions from The Signal.
Sakharkar, a 17-year-old West Ranch High School student, always loved playing chess. So when the pandemic caused all of the chess clubs to end, he decided to start his own. Now, the club boasts over 100 members — about 20 of whom attended a meet at Richard Rioux Memorial Park on Sunday.
“You should do what your passion is, whether it be chess, whether it be something else,” said Sakharkar. “I think that pursuing your hobbies is a really good thing to do. I mean, honestly, for me, chess is one of my ways to relax after a long school day or something. I think it’s a really good way to keep my brain fresh as well.”
While still in the first grade, Sakharkar became a student under local chess master Jay Stallings — who founded a nonprofit called the California Youth Chess League. When the pandemic hit, the nonprofit was forced to close and tons of kids were without a community to practice and play chess.
Once a student, always a student, but now Sakharkar has become the teacher.
“Honestly, I think it’s just seeing how students grow over time, it’s a nice feeling to see how someone who just started chess got into such good skill with so little time,” said Sakharkar on the joys of teaching. “I think it’s that growth that drives me.”
A loss is a loss, but when the tables turn on him, Sakharkar can’t help but feel gratified and impressed by his students. There were multiple times when his students played a brilliant line or move and ended up beating him.
Sakharkar teaches a lot of basics but also some inside knowledge as well. Things like opening principles, trading pieces and end games are a few of the basics. But, if they’re experienced enough, he’ll teach them his favorite move: the queen’s gambit — a complicated series of moves involving pawns at the beginning of the game.
Eashan Chede and Jackson Scamehorn, two 11-year-old students of Sakharkar, haven’t learned the move yet but making new friends, and playing chess with them, is almost just as fun.
“What I like about chess is whenever we play chess, we get to make new friends,” said Chede. “When we get to upgrade our brains when we get to, instead of like just processing, we get to, use our brains and implement it onto the board and we get to figure out ways to do checkmate, stalemate, and stuff like that.”
Sakharkar’s club holds meets at Dr. Richard H. Rioux Memorial Park in Stevenson Ranch every other Sunday if weather permits.