Chess players gain focus, swagger

Math teacher Peter Luczyk says his annual chess tournament helps him get to know students on a personal level

After winning the chess tournament at Comstock Park High School for two years running, Senior Stephen Riley could walk through commencement with a bit of swagger.

Riley, who was considered an underdog both years, won the tournament that has been staged by math teacher and tennis coach Peter Luczyk for the past two years.

Senior Stephen Riley won the chess tournament at Comstock Park High School for a second year in a row

The games, which take place mainly during the students’ advisory hours, are fast-paced events in which the contestants stand at one of several chess boards Luczyk has set up at the front of his classroom.

“No one thought I was going to win,” says Stephen, who will go on to classes at Grand Rapids Community College this fall. “I didn’t even think I would win.”

Stephen mowed through a field of some 30 players – mostly boys – who play their games with swagger and abandon, usually in less than half an hour. Stephen is known for sacrificing his chess pieces if there is an advantage to be gained at the end, says Luczyk, who has coached most of the players but remains silent during the tournament.

By the time he checkmated classmate Nate Miller in the final match,  Stephen cornered Nate’s king with only four pieces on the board. It’s an unorthodox style that throws off his competitors. “I’m setting them up. It doesn’t matter how many pieces I lose,” Stephen says.

Competitors focus on the boards during practice rounds in math teacher Peter Luczyk’s classroom

Stephen, who had played only four weeks before winning last year’s tournament, said he has honed his skills by watching YouTube videos and by competing with the other chess enthusiasts Luczyk has taught and coached at the high school.

“Chess has taught me that you just don’t ever give up,” says Stephen. “You always have opportunity and you can be fine with a little bit of mistakes now and then.”

Luczyk, a 30-year teacher who also coaches the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams and has started an outdoor club, says he enjoys organizing the extra-curricular activities because it helps him get to know the students on a personal level.

As he watched the players battle each other side-by-side during the early rounds of the tourney, Luczyk smiled and whispered: “Isn’t it amazing to have eight high school boys this quiet and focused?”

James Harger
James Harger reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor. Read James' full bio.

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