Derek Tu: check mate for the chess team

Flashback to 2010, and the Hinsdale Central Chess team was playing for a chance to win their division in the USCF high school chess nationals.  Trailing Abington High School from Pennsylvania the majority of the tournament Central needed something big to take the lead, and they needed it fast.

It was game seven against Abington, and Central needed just half of a point to secure the national title.  Because of the point system, which allows for a one point gain for each win, and half point gain for each draw, only one draw was necessary to give Central the trophy.  Tensions were high, and each game being played was more important than the next.

Derek Tu, a freshman at the time, was playing in this seventh and final game of the entire tournament. The match went back and forth until, suddenly, Tu received a communication card from his coach stating that he had to draw in order to win the national tournament.  With only two minutes left on his clock, Tu was able to tie with his opponent, and as a result, secure first place and the national victory for the chess team.

Fast forward four years and Derek Tu, currently a senior, is no longer a beginner in the world of competitive chess.  In addition to being a captain, Tu plays in third position on the varsity team out of eight possible varsity lineup spots.  This past season, Tu was one of the major contributors to the team’s third place finish in state, barely losing to Whitney Young High School in the championship round.

“Derek took on responsibilities and was a role model in many ways,” said head chess coach Dylan Canavan.  “In terms of other contributions, he was a top three chess player on the team all year, consistently scoring many points for the team during competitions.  He also put in a tremendous amount of effort to share the knowledge that he had accrued over the course of his four years with younger players.”

Tu began playing the game of chess at a very young age, learning all the rules when he was in third grade.  He didn’t start playing competitively until he began high school, where he was influenced by his friends to start taking the game much more seriously. After that, it became much more than just an after school activity.

“I actually came into high school doing cross country, but I then decided it wasn’t for me,” Tu said.  “I was trying to find something else to fill my time and most of my friends were into to chess, so I decided to give it a shot.  Pretty soon, I realized I was a terrible player.  Everyone kept beating me, and that really spurred me to try to improve my game and get better. I started playing more and more, and it really became a lifelong passion after that”.

As Tu realized his newfound interest in the game of chess, it consumed more and more of his time.  He practiced two hours a day, three times a week with the school chess team, in addition to playing all day tournaments during many weekends. Canavan would oftentimes bring a grandmaster as well, to teach the nuances of chess to already talented players.

In addition to all of the time he spends during school, Tu also pursues his passion by reading various chess strategy books and even teaching local chess club players at Westview Hills Middle School.  He often goes on Fridays after school, teaching the kids the strategy of the game and tactics involved.

Along with teaching the chess club, Derek Tu gives private lessons to much younger chess hopefuls in the neighborhood.  Although getting involved in private lessons was essentially an accident, it remained something that Tu enjoys doing and continues to find time for.

“My very first student’s parents actually came to me and said, ‘Hey, our son really likes chess, and needs someone to play chess with him.’ And I’m just like, ‘Okay, I’l play chess with him. I can do that.’  And then, all of the sudden, they started to pay me. I realized that it was actually a really good job to teach what I’m passionate about and earn money on the side at the same time. That’s how I started teaching chess.”

Derek Tu will be attending Babson College in the graduating class of 2018.  Although they don’t have a prestigious chess program, Tu remains confident that this passion will remain with him as more than just a memory, all the way to Boston.