How DC Chess Champion Oliver Heggli-Nonay ’20 Found Camaraderie in Competition

The world of competitive chess is just that: competitive. Oliver Heggli-Nonay ’20 would know—the current president of the Sidwell Friends chess club, Heggli-Nonay recently won the amateur division of the DC Chess Championships, sponsored by the DMV chess club. By winning, Oliver took home the title, a trophy, and a cash prize. Though it may have been an individual competition, Heggli-Nonay wasn’t alone.

“There’s a lot of teamwork,” Heggli-Nonay says. “In between rounds, people sit together and look at their games and try to analyze what did they wrong. They do it for both people, so it’s not like, ‘I’m just going to go off on my own, look at my own game, and not show it to anyone.’ It’s like the more people that are analyzing it, the more helpful it is for everybody involved.”

Heggli-Nonay’s dad taught him the game at a young age, but he didn’t start playing competitively until high school. “I just liked having the pieces out in front and trying to find the best move,” he said. “It’s just a puzzle where you just have to find the best moves. When I was little, that was what I enjoyed.”

When Heggli-Nonay began playing seriously, he found an unexpected camaraderie within the competition.

“I definitely have met friends from other schools, like from Georgetown Day School or Maret,” he said. “But it’s also across different age groups, because I play in a chess league where the average age of people on my team is maybe 50 or 60 years old. And we don’t always just talk about chess.”

Heggli-Nonay, who is thinking about playing on the chess team at the University of Chicago, which he’ll attend next fall, is aware of the reputation chess players have.

“I think that a lot of times when people think about chess players, they think of this antisocial person that doesn’t really talk to anybody and just looks at pieces or things like that,” he said. “But they forget that there’s that teamwork aspect—talking with other people, learning from them. I think that aspect of chess is forgotten a lot of times.”

In addition to tournaments and meetings with the Sidwell Friends chess club, Heggli-Nonay practices around an hour a day, often playing against a computer (though he keeps the pieces in front of him for a more tactile experience). Practice, he says, is the best way to get better. The second-best way?

“Get your brain moving. Don’t just sit in front of a TV mindlessly for two hours with your brain just turned off,” he said. “If you get your brain moving and doing all these mental activities, it can help you a lot. Not just when you’re playing chess, but in other ways in life.”

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