U of T undergrad and chess whiz Nicholas Vettese enjoys the Hart House Chess Club, meeting likeminded people every Friday, making friends in his first year and having fun playing the game in which he readily excels. This International Master is on his way to the 2023 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship next month where he will represent U of T’s Varsity Team.
The oldest chess club in Canada with an uninterrupted history of over 125 years, the Hart House Chess Club offers a friendly gathering place for chess lovers of all skill levels at the University of Toronto and across the Greater Toronto Area. It hosts competitions, tournaments, workshops and more. It also organizes major events, including the Canadian University Chess Championship, the Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship and the Ivy League Chess Challenge.
Nicholas Vettese, a St. Michael’s College general arts and science student active in this Club, began playing chess at the tender age of six, in Grade 1. This was by way of an elementary school lunchtime program that his mother discovered.
His chess-playing father initially helped him to learn the game. “He’s okay [at chess]. He knows about tactics,” Nicholas says of his dad, adding: “I played with him a lot. I got better, first, from playing with him. But within a year, I was starting to beat him.”
Immediately following the introduction to chess at the lunchtime program, Nicholas began attending chess camps, some on PA Days, and playing small tournaments, both of which helped him to gain more skills in this highly cerebral game. “That was the main way I got better after I started beating my dad.”
Success came early for Nicholas: “My first big tournament was the Grade 2 Ontario Chess Challenge, which I came in at sixth place – my family didn’t expect me to rank that high! I went back in Grade 3 and came in first. This qualified me for the Grade 3 Canadian Chess Challenge, in which I also came in first place.”
Excelling rapidly, he became the top-rated player on the Canadian Under-10 list, according to the Chess Federation of Canada. At the age of 10, he became the youngest-ever Canadian National Master.
Last summer, the now 18-year-old student won the North American Youth Chess Championship, which crowns the best U18 chess players in North America. According to the World Chess Federation rules, this victory immediately qualified him for the title of International Master, one step below the Grandmaster title.
Camaraderie at the Hart House Chess Club
Nicholas joined the Hart House Chess Club when he started university. He most enjoys the fellowship he has gained at the Club – the social aspects.
"The Club is great for making new friends, definitely. I go every week. It’s just for fun,” he says. The Club meets every Friday from 4 pm until 11 pm for Casual Chess Fridays. Nicholas usually stays about three hours.
The Club is hugely popular. “It’s always packed on Friday,” Nicholas says. “Even starting at 4 pm, when it begins ‒ it’s always packed by then. There’s probably 60 or 70 people there every week.”
He emphasizes that the Club is not only for chess whizzes. “There are people of all playing levels. There are many who are very good at blitz chess [a single, time-controlled game of one to 10 minutes, also known as speed chess], as well as those at an intermediate level and there are also beginners … It’s good for everyone.”
He feels comfortable at Hart House and knows it well. “I’ve gone to Hart House tournaments for many years, for a very long time. There’s always a big tournament in December.” This year, the Holidays Open Chess Tournament will run from December 9 to 11. (Unfortunately, Nicholas can’t make it as he has a major exam in the middle of that time slot.)
What’s next for this chess whiz?
Nicholas is one of U of T’s Varsity Team players representing the University at the 2023 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship in Seattle in January 2023. Since passing the qualifying tournament, he’s looking forward to this international event.
The other three players on Team A who will be going to Seattle are Yunshan Li, Tanraj Sohal and Eilia Zomorrodian. A second team is also being sent.
Whether he wins or loses, Nicholas’ meteoric rise in the chess world is a feather in the cap of the University … with an accompanying nod to the Hart House Chess Club where he still has fun with friends playing this beguiling game.
Read more about the 2023 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship in Seattle in January 2023.
Learn more about the Hart House Chess Club, and even more Hart House Chess Club – 'Where the Kibitzer is King'.
Read more about the Club’s Holidays Open Chess Tournament, Dec 9-11, 2022.