U of T’s chess club – Canada’s oldest – is undergoing a 21st-century revival
When an economics professor founded the U of T chess club at University College in 1895, he and his fellow organizers restricted membership to faculty in arts, medicine, science and law, as well as male students. Other enthusiasts begged to join, so the club swung open its doors to all faculty, alumni and anyone wanting to engage in a battle of the minds. Soon, even the Anglican bishop William Reeve was an honorary club member and, despite no affiliation to U of T, played on the university chess team.
In 1919, the club moved to Hart House and before long was not only competing locally, but internationally. The U of T team scored six wins at the intercollegiate chess championships between 1965 and 1982. The members kept on top of their game by inviting international stars, such as Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres (shown above in a 30-game simultaneous exhibition at Hart House), to play and instruct the men in new moves.
Women had only limited access to Hart House until 1972, and women didn’t compete in a club championship until 2000, says Sanja Vukosavljevic, the first female president in the club’s 119-year history. “Chess is a male-dominated sport,” she admits.
The fourth-year sociology and Slavic languages student and her team have added workshops for beginners, pizza parties and movie nights to the roster, and brought back a club tradition – the student versus faculty tournament. These initiatives have more than tripled the membership from last school year. There are now 76 players, 18 of whom are women. And the club continues to swing its doors wide open. All alumni are welcome! To find out more, visit hhchess.sa.utoronto.ca.