After finishing in third place at last February’s Illinois High School Association Chess State Finals, the ETHS chess team is setting its sights even higher for the upcoming season.

The top players from last year have returned, and the team has been strengthened by the return of Henry Zaslow, who had been studying abroad in New Zealand, and the addition of freshman Adam Elgat.

It’s no wonder that winning the 2023 State Finals is their goal for this year!

Team members have been preparing for the 2022-23 season, which kicks off this weekend, since completing last year’s competitive season at the national youth events in April.

Noteworthy results in recent months include Elie Platnick’s prize-winning outings in the championship sections of the Chicago Open and Illinois Open; rating class championships for Zaslow and Manu Zerega at the Chicago Open and the Illinois Open; a second-place class finish for Bo Lieberman at the Chicago Open; and rating improvements for Christopher von Hoff, Jonah Chen, Meris Goldfarb, Ozan Mixon, Tate Darin and Somil Bose.

Platnick, a senior who played Board 1 for ETHS last season, won the following game on his way to a 5-2 record in the Illinois Open.

Illinois Open, Round 6

White to move

13Re1! Be6 14Rxe5 Ng4 14…dxc4 loses to 15Bg5 Qd8 16Nd6+ 

15Nd6+ Kd7 16Bb5+ Kc7 17Bf4!? 17Nxf7 is also strong; white has a forced mate after 17…Bxf7 18Qe7+ Kb8 19Bf4.

17…Nxe5 18Bxe5 f6 19Nc4+ This discovered check allows white to capture black’s queen.

19…fxe5 20Nxb6 Kxb6?!

White to move

21Qd6+! White is forcing black’s king into an unprotected position; checkmate will follow.

21…Kxb5 22a4+ Ka5 23b4 mate.

Von Hoff, a junior who played boards 2 and 3 last year, also competed at the Illinois Open. The following Round 6 win helped him reach a lifetime rating high after this event.

Illinois Open, Round 6

Black to move

28…Rxc4+! 29Nxc4 Bxg2 This is the simplest way for black to win. Black wins a bishop and gains an advanced passed g-pawn in exchange for his rook.

30Re7+ Kg6 31Rxa7 Rd8 32Ne3 Be4 33Ra4?! White needed to abandon his d-pawn and play 33Nf1 to stop black from threatening to queen his g-pawn.

33…g3 34d5 cxd5 35Rd4 Rc8+ 36Kd1

Black to move

36…g2 White has to play 37Nxg2, sacrificing his knight, to stop black’s g-pawn from queening. Black went on to win on move 45.

Zerega, a sophomore, clinched his tie for first at the Chicago Open with the help of the following last-round tactic.

Chicago Open, Round 6

Black to move

20…Rxe4 21Rxe4 Nxe4 22hxg4 Nxg3 Black has won two pawns and exposed white’s king to further attack. He cruised to victory on move 35.

Darin, an improving junior, had an active offseason that was highlighted by drawing Waubonsie Valley High School’s top player at the Illinois Youth Invitational.

Illinois Youth Invitational, Round 2

White to move

21Qxd4! exd4 22Bxc7 Rb7 White has won a bishop but only temporarily, since his bishop on c7 and knight on c3 are both under attack.

23Bxc4!? b5 24axb5 axb5 25Bd3?! Stronger is 25Bb3 fxe4 26Bxc3, so that white’s bishops work together to pressure black’s kingside.

25…fxe4 26Bxe4 Re8 27Bxe4 Re8 28Bxg7 Kxg7 29Bf3? White should keep his bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal by playing 29f3 or 29Bd3.

29…Bf5?! Black misses his opportunity to play 29…c2! 30Ra1 Bf5, when his protected passed pawn on c2 would give him the advantage.

White to move

30bxc3! Sacrificing his rook for black’s bishop is the only move that keeps black from gaining a winning advantage on the queenside.  

30…Bxb1 31Rxb1 Reb8 32Kh2 b4 33cxb4 Rxb4 White’s extra pawns offset black’s advantage of rook vs. bishop. The game ended in a draw on move 75.

Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained...