“I’m scared” were the words spoken by Ashley Salas (2L) even before her first move against Dr. Dennis Saccuzzo was made. When asked the same question 29 minutes into play, her answer was “I’m still scared. This is even more stressful than final exams.”
But ironically, Salas was one of the last three players left out of the 12 who played in the first session from 3–5 p.m. against chess master Professor Saccuzzo on Thursday, October 24. Thursday marked the third time Professor Saccuzzo volunteered to simultaneously play chess against TJSL competitors.
“Fifty years ago I played simultaneous chess for the first time,” Saccuzzo explained. “I challenged my entire junior high school (Marina Junior High in the Bay area) to play against me, and I got 14 takers. One guy got a draw. And, fortunately, I defeated everyone else.”
Professor Saccuzzo has since become a chess expert. He studied under famed Chess Master George Koltanowski, and has played as many as 20 opponents at once. Dr. Saccuzzo is the co-founder with Dr. Nancy Johnson of TJSL’s Bar Secrets Program and says this type of challenge “both develops the student’s ability to deeply focus and sustain attention.”
“These skills, he adds, “are not just critical for chess players, but also for law students and practicing lawyers alike.”
“This is nerve racking,” said Randy Abreu (3L). “It’s nerve racking because every move could be your last move.” When asked when the last time he had played chess, Abreau replied “Two years ago when Professor Saccuzzo beat me, I think I was the second person out in 2011, the last time Professor took on 12 competitors here at TJSL.” Abreu was more fortunate this time being one of the last four competitors to be knocked out during session number one.
To accommodate students and alumni, Dr. Saccuzzo held two sessions. The first from 3–5 p.m. and the second from 6–8 p.m which attracted 26 players total.
Peter Hackmann (3L) was the final player in the 3 p.m. session. “It was tough but it was a lot of fun,” said Hackmann.
The 6 p.m. round attracted 16 players and, for the first time since Dr. Saccuzzo has been taking on challengers at TJSL, he lost. The final player in the second session was Cole Munson (3L) who walked away with the pride of beating one of the best and a $100 prize. "It was very difficult to beat Dr. Saccuzzo at chess," said Munson. "I was surprised when I found myself ahead in the game. I contribute my success largely to luck. I had a great time playing against Dr. Saccuzzo, but it was very difficult and mentally exhausting. I can only imagine how he felt playing 13 different players at once."
“This was a tough group this year,” said Dr. Saccuzzo. “Much, much tougher than in years past.” Professor Saccuzzo, said he “is already looking to the future and wants to make the “Chess Match Challenge” a semi-annual event at TJSL.”