Nestled in among a dynamic offering of clubs and activities at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) is the Chess Club, one of the school’s oldest after-school co-curricular activities.
It’s been over 50 years since the first organized Chess Club appeared in the school’s Tower yearbook in 1968.
“Chess provides the fertile ground for logical mathematical thinking, concentration, problem-solving, and more,” says Dr. Robert Fantilli ’94, club moderator and teacher at SMCS. “As a math teacher, it’s exciting to see students develop both sides of the brain. Offering this chess programme to our student body is one of the many ways we support and encourage learning outside of the classroom.”
In 2012, under the leadership of Dr. Fantilli, the SMCS Chess team reorganized itself to include a more competitive schedule of tournaments and adopted the nickname Blue Knights, previously used for the school’s now dormant wrestling team.
“Thanks to the generous financial support of the St. Michael’s College School Parents’ Association we were able to procure a renowned chess coach, numerous chess sets, and clocks to give the team the best possible foundation for success,” says Fantilli. “It is exciting to see the renewed interest in the game at St. Michael’s.”
For several years, the SMCS Chess Club has competed in the Toronto Secondary School Chess League (TSSCL), a member organization in the Ontario Chess Association. This year’s Chess Club consists of 35 members across Grades 7-10 who meet every Tuesday for practice.
SMCS captured its first league championship in the 1979-80 season, with more recent accomplishments including a gold medal standing in 2015-16 and a bronze medal standing in 2017-18. In 2016, in an effort to grow the game at the school, SMCS began hosting the annual TSSCL Championship with over 15 schools and 150 participants from across the GTA in attendance.
“The Chess Club is a great way to have fun, improve your game, and meet new people in different grades and schools,” says Joshua Leduc, Grade 9 student and Blue Knights Chess Club Member and Competitor. “I enjoy the friendly competition with my friends after school, and the opportunity to represent the team in tournament play is an added bonus I look forward to.”
Since 2012, the Chess Club has been led by head coach and renowned chess player Natalia Khoudgarian. Recognized on the world stage for holding the title of Woman International Master (WIM), Khoudgarian was Canada's Woman Chess Champion ten times from 2006-16 and represented Canada at Women's Chess Olympiads five times from 1996-2014.
“SMCS is very fortunate to have such a talented and accomplished instructor work with our students,” says Fantilli. “I am also truly grateful that we have such an amazing group of chess learners and competitors to work with.”