Drew McLachlan
The Navigator

VIU’s International Chess Club began last September as a space for both international and domestic students to learn the game or hone their skill. This year, Sahara Shaik, an Indian immigrant who grew up in Toronto, is taking over as club president, and hopes to share her passion for chess with Nanaimo.

Navigator: When did you first discover chess?

Sahara Shaik: When I was a kid, around seven years old, I got introduced in school. There were different games, but they actually taught chess. It’s a very strategy-oriented game, so it was hard to grasp at first.

N: What do you enjoy so much about it?  What made you choose chess instead of another game?

SS: It’s more enjoyable because it involves strategies among both players. It’s not just about what you think—you have to think a step ahead of the other player. Sure, there are other games that involve something similar, but with this one, I would say there are more pieces to integrate in order to establish yourself. It’s a more critical and analytical game, which separates it from other games.

N: I’ve talked to other players who have spoken to certain aspects of the game being carried over and improving their student lives. Do you find that holds up for you too?

SS: Definitely. I’m currently doing a business program where we have to analyze what our competitors—in terms of business companies—are doing. Chess integrates that into play as well. It involves problem solving skills and brings more critical skills into play. It’s not just what you think, but what the other person might think as well.

N: Has there been a lot of support for the club? Is VIU a big chess campus?

SS: I think there is a lot of support. The only thing it needs is more awareness on campus. There are a lot of students who may be interested in it, but because of overlapping schedules it’s not that big yet. It’s really hard to incorporate all students’ timing and make them come to play. And a lot of students are interested in chess, but it’s hard for students to come out every week. The club has a lot of students who just want to learn the basics, but also many students who are champions and have played across Canada, and international students who have been established idols in their respective countries. It could become really big, but currently we have about 20 members. On our Facebook page we get a lot of comments and messages from non-VIU students or parents who would like to come out.

N: Do the players get very competitive?

SS: Yes, they do. There are a lot of great games; and people love to compete, so we were thinking of holding some small tournaments—which we might do next month—and start giving out some sort of prizes for winners. Just some small competition to keep the spirit alive.

N: Do you ever play against other universities or clubs?

SS: Not really. There are other clubs, like the video game club, which were set up next to us at the club fair who we were talking to about some kind of tournament. There are many students who are interested. When they come to play chess they do ask if there are any other chess clubs on VIU campus that they’re not aware of.

N: Who is the chess club for, mainly experts?

SS: Not at all. We try to target all kinds of players, even students who just want to learn. Even if you don’t have any clue about it, the club carries instructors—usually around three—who can help you learn as a beginner. Even if there are champions in there, they’ll help you learn—they enjoy that. There’s a big scope for beginners and experts to sit and play together. More than the game, they come to make friends and learn chess.

N: What do you tell people when you want to encourage them to check out the club?

SS: Basically, we tell them how cool the game is. Most people have this assumption in their mind that it’s for students and people who are really strategically-oriented and know a lot of math and scientific stuff. It’s a really basic game depending on how you play. So we tell students that this is a very simple game. Beginners, most of the time, are afraid to even come out and watch. We basically tell them they have the option to learn the game with a beginner or play against an expert.

N: What does the club provide aside from just a place to play?

SS: We try to offer things like fairs and workshops, but because our executive members are all in different programs, scheduling can be difficult. This month, we’re thinking of having a fair or joining another club’s fair to recruit students from there. We had a cool idea of just sitting in the cafeteria and playing a few games, nothing fancy, so students could see what the game is about.

N: Now that you’re president of the club, are you planning on doing anything differently this year?

SS: Definitely. Last year, there weren’t many events, and a lot of people weren’t aware of the club, but this time we’re actually spreading the word out and trying to get in touch with students on an individual basis and letting them know when the events take place. We’re trying to attract as many students as possible this year and retain the membership—getting them to come back for every event.