Keiter defeats Jacobson in fast-moving school chess championship
Enthusiastic crowd of dozens watches in the foyer as senior overcomes freshman’s difficult opening moves
May 18, 2023
Senior Alon Keiter defeated freshman Sam Jacobson to defend his title as champion in Shalhevet’s annual Chess Tournament April 24, as viewers chanted the names of the contestants and as many as 30 people crowded around the table in the foyer during lunch, with more watching from the second- and third-floor stairway overlooks above.
The atmosphere was electric as Alon took the win in what he described as a fast game – four minutes and 33 seconds into his personal 15-minute timer. In the championship match, each player had a total of 15 minutes to make as many moves as they could before their own time was up.
“I was never going to underestimate Sam Jacobson, he is a very good chess player, and I had to be ready for anything,” Alon said afterwards. “But I’m not completely shocked that I won the game. Considering that I was the defending champion it seemed that I had the advantage.”
Sam, a ninth-grader playing in his first Shalhevet tournament, declined multiple requests by the Boiling Point to be interviewed. Alon, who is also the chess club’s co-head, tried to imagine his viewpoint.
“The material was equal – he wasn’t down any pieces, but I just made a big attack,” said Alon. “Whereas in some other games, pieces were captured, maybe I was up pieces or down pieces, but in this case the material was equal. But positionally speaking I got a big advantage.”
While the chants were amusing and even encouraging to Alon, the winner was unsure what effect they’d had on Sam.
“I was just smiling when they were doing their chants upstairs,” Alon said. “I tried to just enjoy the moment. I’m actually a little bit worried though about Sam – maybe it was distracting him, because I could see he was in a really difficult spot. He was trying to focus so I honestly wonder if that put him at a disadvantage because I was able to handle it better than he was.” Once Alon moved that bishop, I was like ‘Oh my God, he’s insane.’ No one saw it coming. It shocked me. — Elisha Fishman, spectator, 9th grade
Once Alon moved that bishop, I was like ‘Oh my God, he’s insane.’ No one saw it coming. It shocked me.
— Elisha Fishman, spectator, 9th grade
The duration of the game was surprising to fans including Zachary Schechter, an avid chess player who didn’t compete this year.
“Honestly it was kind of shocking – I thought it was going to be a bit of a longer game,” said Zachary.
Zach said it might have been because Sam had advanced to the final when his opponent, senior Boris Gueorguiev, was disqualified after not being available to play during the semi-finals. If he had been, Zach said, it would have been an even match and Boris might have won
If Sam had advanced by defeating Boris, the semi-final round against Boris would still have helped by preparing him for tougher competition, Zach added. He described the championship match as significantly different from previous games in the tournament, especially in regards to the number of errors made.
“The championship game was more tactically … more strategic I’d say, while most of the other games were more radical – bad moves and mistakes,” Zachary said.
By the time the match was halfway over there were 20 to 30 students watching, including those on the second and third floor chanting the players’ names in encouragement to Alon and Sam.
“The atmosphere helped and made it the best it could be,” said freshman Elisha Fishman, who was eliminated from the tournament in the second round. “It made it more exciting, more interesting, and just a fun experience to watch the game.”
Only three in the crowd were girls. None of them wanted to comment publicly on why that might have been, but one spoke on condition of anonymity.
“I think that a lot of girls don’t particularly enjoy chess along with the fact that it isn’t a very interesting game to watch,” said the girls who wished to remain anonymous. “Only if you really want to learn the game will you spend time watching it.”
Another key ingredient in the championship match was an unusual opening that Sam used, and the way Alon responded.
“The part I found most significant was before our game, Sam Jacobson actually told me what opening he was going to play,” said Alon. “He ended up playing that opening… I actually don’t do very well against the opening that he plays so I tried something new, and it actually got me into a pretty good position early on.”
According to Alon, after Sam’s opening, Alon took a risk and tried something he had never played before, which, fortunately for him, got him in a good position early on.
“I really had to figure out what I was going to do against this,” said Alon thinking back on his second move.
After Alon safely responded to Sam’s opening, the game was even, said Alon. Alon then started to attack, and soon after, he knew that he would have a checkmate only 6 or 7 moves away.
“So there was one particular position where Sam was under a lot of pressure, and it was going to be very difficult for him to defend correctly,” said Alon. “There was one point, I’d say 6 or 7 moves away from checkmate, I realized, I’m completely winning and it’s gonna take a miracle for me to blow it.”
Elisha also believed that the game was, for the most part, fairly equal, and was very surprised when Alon suddenly won out of nowhere, as he said.
“I would say the first 15 moves of the game were very equal, and then Sam just lost the handle,” said Elisha. “Once Alon moved that bishop, I was like ‘oh my God, he’s insane.’ No one saw it coming. It shocked me.”
Alon ended the game when he moved his bishop from h5 to g3, to put Sam’s King, at h1, in checkmate.
“When we started, it was very equal and nobody really was winning yet, and then once I took the lead I never relinquished it,” said Alon.
Replay the Jacobson-Keiter chess championship here:
Click on the arrows at bottom right to follow all 20 moves of the game. Graphic by Etan Lerner and Benjy Kolieb
This story won national 2023 Digital Story of the Year Interactive Graphic , Second Place, from the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA).