Athlete of the Issue: Eli Elterman’s Chess Career

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Latin’s Upper School chess team just brought home the top state honors in 1A, but now it is time to look ahead to next year. The Romans are losing six seniors to graduation but have some promising younger talent, including sophomore Eli Elterman.

“Over the past years, Eli has had the job of securing the lower boards, which is a crucial component of winning chess tournaments,” said Anton Schuster, a fellow sophomore and teammate. “Eli rigorously analyzes his games, learning from his mistakes and discovering new tactics, which he uses to his advantage.”

Eli began playing chess before he entered kindergarten. He learned to play when he was only 3 years old, around the same time he was learning to read, even though, according to Eli, he “wasn’t too good” back then. Eli’s father taught him initially, but Latin’s Lower School club programming allowed him to grow his interest in the game. He attributes his current success to the start he got in the Lower School. “We had a very strong instructor teach us strategy,” Eli explained. He attended chess club once a week on Fridays for years and entered into tournaments with his Latin classmates. “This made school one of my main sources of improving my chess,” Eli remembered gratefully.

Chess programming at Latin’s Middle School was not as robust as in the lower grades. “I kind of quit chess through Middle School,” Eli confessed. “I tried making a club in fifth grade but there wasn’t enough attendance.” Though he didn’t join the Middle School chess team, Eli continued to develop his skills through casual games. He practiced online but did not participate in the tournament circuit.

Fortunately, the Upper School chess team was more active, and Eli joined during his freshman year. High school offered a chess community worlds away from Middle School, committed to both fun and competition. However, this school year’s chess season brought with it the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges were met by the team and Eli with the same strategy and resolve applied to the actual game.

While the chess team was unable to play in person, athletes could keep their skills up through online competition. Eli did not let the pandemic get in his way of diligently practicing. Eli attributes this year’s state victory to the extraordinary commitment to hard work and personal growth from each player. “I’m most proud of the fact that we were able to keep up chess and we didn’t give it up even when we weren’t able to meet,” Eli said, praising his teammates.

Eli earned the praise of fellow teammates as well. “Eli played a tremendous role in our state championship run,” said senior Matthew Shrake. “This year, he was always someone we could count on for a win. With six out of our eight best players leaving for college in the fall, he will have to step into a leadership role and continue the popularity and tradition of chess that has recently been ignited.” Eli is ready to accept this challenge and knows that he will either be board one or two, together with Anton.

Eli knows there are big shoes to fill for next year. For Eli, the off-season is an opportune time to work on his speed and quick thinking. In between seasons, he practices an hour a day on Chess.com where he solves puzzles and plays games. When asked about his greatest obstacle, Eli mentioned his opening technique, which remains a work in progress for him.

Eli is committed to recruiting new players and helping them be ready to compete, just as he encouraged sophomore Max Liss this season. Appreciative of Eli’s help, Max said, “I just joined the chess team recently. Eli encouraged me to join and helped me improve at the game. He is a great player and a crucial member of the team.”

Eli encourages students of all abilities to give chess at Latin a try and also prioritizes increasing diversity on the team. “The chess team is accepting of any and all students interested in either learning the game or competing,” Eli said. “We are open to players of all skill levels. We would also like to see engagement from non-male students, as chess is currently a male-dominated game and we look to change that.” To aspiring chess players and beginners, Eli’s advice is to practice against the computer online, play against others at your level within the online chess community, and watch chess YouTube channels.

The chess team’s inevitable senior departures will propel underclassmen and newcomers to the lower boards next year. Eli is ready and hoping others will join him on the team.