Like clockwork, the virtual Chess in the Schools (CIS) summer camp materialized in front of my eyes at precisely 8:50am every morning. Hearing Shaun’s clarion voice welcoming the students as they poured into the zoom…
Interview with CIS Senior Marcus Sutton
Strikingly optimistic, intelligent, and self-reflective, chess expert Marcus Sutton attributes much of his personal success and his methodical nature to the influence of the game of chess and his work with Chess in the Schools (CIS). He joined the program in fourth grade and was hooked immediately, winning a trophy in his first tournament. Now a senior at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, Marcus has organized his life around what he calls his “Three C’s”: chess, coding, and community service. Encouraged by the Chess in the Schools College Bound program, Marcus applied for and was awarded a prestigious Posse Fellowship to attend Brandeis University on a full scholarship, where he plans to study applied mathematics and explore business, while working his way to the level of chess master with the United States Chess Federation.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a chess player; I’ve been playing chess since the fourth grade [at P.S. 16]. I’ve been playing competitively since sixth grade. I’ve captained my middle school chess team, and I’m currently captain of my high school chess team. My chess rating in the United States Chess Federation is currently 1975, but I have a peak of 2003, which is titled as an expert in chess. Beyond chess, I like to involve myself in my three C’s: chess, community service, and coding. I got involved in both community service and coding thanks to Chess in the Schools.
I’ve always believed in equality. It’s easy to understand that there are people who have more than you, but it takes a little more deep diving to understand that there are people who have less than you at the same time, and I’ve done that through a community service organization, Love, Hallie, another nonprofit…[that] works very closely with CIS.
How did your trajectory progress with Chess in the Schools?
In fourth grade, my school got their first chess program, so it was incorporated into everyone’s daily schedule. Chess in the Schools was actually teaching at my school. They hosted two tournaments at my school, and since we were hosting the tournaments, I had to play. I actually got a trophy in that [first] tournament. I came in thirteenth place.
It 100% helped my trajectory with chess because chess was never on my radar before and ever since I started playing in tournaments I was like, ‘Hey, I can actually play this. I’m actually good at this.’ That influenced me going to my middle school, I.S. 318. It’s famously known for its chess team and all the legends they’ve made out of their chess coaching.
What are some of the other ways you see the influence of Chess in the Schools in your life?
The first thing that comes to mind is that there are a bunch of community service opportunities that Chess in the Schools offers, and community service means so much to me. We had this event where a school came in, and kids in our College Bound program that CIS offers were teaching them how to play chess or tutoring anything they wanted help in, and it made me feel so good because I was like, “I know how to play chess. All these kids are eager to play chess, but they just want something to help propel them.” And Chess in the Schools was offering that. I felt as though I was helping to directly contribute to [their] chess career. I know how impactful chess has been in my life, and if I can give that to someone else, it would mean the world to me. Chess in the Schools helps me realize the ability to give back. It’s a domino effect.
What has chess given you?
Chess has helped me stop and take a moment in not only my chess games, but in real life because when you take a moment to analyze the position you’re in…you can make the proper moves to eventually succeed — maybe win or maybe not lose so fast. People are quick to judge, make assumptions, make conclusions about things, but nothing was built overnight. It’s easy to act on impulse. I feel like chess has really helped me slow down and appreciate the things I have. I may have something and feel like I could have more, but I have to understand that I could have less and be grateful for the things I do have. When I’m on the chess board, I may not be winning…but I still have to try to make things work with what I do have.
Tell us a little bit about your plans for the future.
Oh my gosh, Posse, wonderful organization that I would not have even applied for if not for Chano [LaBoy, CIS College Bound Director]. I sat down with Chano, and he believed in me. I have the scholarship now, and I’m very grateful! It’s a full tuition scholarship to Brandeis University. It was one of my top schools, so I was ecstatic when I knew I was getting the scholarship. I will be studying Applied Mathematics. I love business [as well], and I need to figure out where my heart belongs.
Do you expect to continue playing chess?
I do want to keep playing chess in college, though I understand that I may not be able to allocate so much time. Brandeis has an amazing chess community. One of the College Bound alumni, she’s actually a great friend of mine [Janell]…helped revive their chess club. Massachusetts [has] a great chess scene. I’m hoping chess can take off in college. I would love to hit 2200, which would be a master in chess.
How do you expect to stay connected with Chess in Schools?
Chess in the Schools has Summer Academy, where we just have fun over the summer…There are people who may not have obligations over the summer or anything to do, and Chess in the Schools resolves that with their Summer Academy. I’m hoping to participate, so long as they’ll let me! I’m definitely going to come back as much as I can. They’ve pretty much shaped me for my entire life, so it can’t hurt to give some time back to them!