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.
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.
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?”