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Michael Nguyen: Chess at OTTA

I was first introduced to chess in the eighth grade. I joined my school's chess club, which was ran by my math teacher, Mr. S. He taught me the basics of chess: how pawns move, how knights can "jump" over pieces, and how checkmate happens. I found it all very intriguing.


Up until joining that club, I never really thought of chess as "fun." I just thought it was a mentally exhausting game, where players could spend hours doing nothing but move wooden pieces across a board. But once Mr. S taught me how to play, I realized that I could have fun despite being under constant mental overload. (Note: this principle doesn't apply to all mentally-overloading activities. I certainly don't "have fun" when taking midterms.)


Once we held a chess competition, I knew I wanted to participate and do my best, despite being a newbie. And so I joined. We played our tournament across a couple of weeks. Luckily, my early opponents were also newbies, and I managed to beat them and get all the way to the semifinals. I was matched with the chess club's best player, Josh. It was certainly over for me, I knew that.


Until, in the middle of our match, the biggest miracle: he accidentally blundered his queen. The look on his face: it was a game-ending move for him, and I managed to get all the way to the finals. Then I lost and took second place. Despite losing, I got second place. And I was just a newbie.


Chess taught me a lot about perseverance and gave me a better perspective of who I am compared to my peers, and I'd like to share it. If you think you're far behind in something compared to everyone else: first of all, you're probably not. Secondly, you can always try. And trying your best could yield fruit, ripe and delicious fruit. So why not try?


Here's my other point: when you play chess, everything is a strategic decision. Every move has a purpose and every move can be a game-winner or game-ender. Okay, that may be too dramatic. The point is: you take proactive steps, because you think about what you are going to do and what the other party is going to do. In theory, it will help you out in the long run.


At Our Time to Act United (OTTA), I sometimes like to think of what we do as a part of a large game of chess. But at the same time, not really. Let me explain.


We make strategic decisions to rally and support youth, with an emphasis on the San Diego community. Each newsletter we send out, each event we hold, each social media post... they're all there to support our mission in organizing youth for a better future. In the context of this quasi-chess stuff, it's a part of our "game plan."


Yet, our "game plan" isn't about winning. It's about fostering growth and community. Nor are we optimizing every single action to maximize our output. We do our work because we enjoy it and we have lots of fun along the way. That's chess, and that's OTTA.



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