By Rob Abruzzese
Azeez Alade had a plan. He went into the championship game against teammate Alex Ostrovskiy with a move in mind that he was so sure that would work that he couldn’t wait to use it. He methodically played his game, slowly setting up the move, but when the time finally came to execute it he realized that he had fallen into a trap.
“His thought process is incredible,” Alade said of Ostrovskiy. “When he plays, he plays very solid and safe, but there is always a trick. In my game, I wanted to play this one move so badly, but he set a trap for me and I realized that it would have lost almost immediately. I thought it was such a perfect move, but he lays down so many traps that when you step on one it’s over.”
That’s what Ostrovskiy likes to do, he sets traps and waits for opponents to fall into them. It’s a strategy that he used on Sunday when he took first place and led Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School’s chess team to victory at the 48th Greater New York Scholastic Chess Championships at the Brooklyn Marriott.
“Ostrovskiy also just likes to go move by move to hammer out a slight advantage,” Murrow’s chess coach Eliot Weiss explained. “His opponents probably don’t even realize it and then he uses that advantage to win.”
Winning is nothing new for Ostrovskiy. He started learning how to set up the pieces when he was two, and his father started playing with him shortly after they moved to Brooklyn from Moscow when he was five. He joined a scholastic chess club, where he was able to improve his game by playing against other kids his age, and by seven he had become the youngest player to ever win a state championship.
“Chess sorta runs in my family,” said Ostrovskiy, who used to play with his grandfather. “I learned to play from my dad. He plays and he’s a big fan. He’s not competitive himself but he’s always encouraged me.”
He has now won the last four city titles and the last three state and national titles with the hopes of winning another one of those before he graduates high school.
Ostrovskiy is Murrow’s current best player, but the competition is fierce at a school that has now won 18 city titles, 17 state titles and eight national titles since 1989. Dominating these tournaments is something of a habit of the Murrow High School chess team.
Weiss has been the mentor behind all of those titles. He became a math teacher at Murrow High School in 1981 and immediately started the team. It took him until 1989 to lead his students to its first city championship, but they quickly started dominating after that, winning six cities in a row, and their first national title in 1993.
Ostrovskiy and Alade both attribute Weiss’ coaching success to his laid back style that encourages kids to want to play without putting too much pressure on them.
“He’s the guy that makes this all happen,” Ostrovskiy said. “He’s our coach and coordinator. He plays a huge role in keeping this team competitive.”
“Coach Weiss is a great motivator without putting too much pressure on us,” Alade added. “A lot of coaches are saying, ‘You’d better win or else’ but I feel that never helps a chess player. ”
Out of 47 kids at the high school varsity level, Murrow had six finish in the top 11 — Ostrovskiy (first), Alade (third), James Black (fifth), Kristian Jacome (seventh), Alexis Paredes (eighth) and Shawn Swindell (11th). Nafitul Bhuiyan came in first place in the high school novice division.
In past years, the Murrow chess team has been invited to City Hall by Mayor Bloomberg to be congratulated for winning the city title. It’s a tradition that Weiss hopes that new Mayor Bill de Blasio will keep alive.
“That’s always fun for the kids and it gives them more confidence in what they’re doing,” Weiss said. “That’s our goal. I’ll send him a letter and hopefully he’ll invite us to congratulate us just like we’d like to congratulate him for being the new mayor.”
After that, Weiss and his team will be off to Saratoga Springs for the state championships in March and then to San Diego for nationals in April. It might seem a little premature to be talking about nationals at this point, but the team is extremely confident in its abilities.
“We’re kind of like a juggernaut right now,” Ostrovskiy said. “We just have very good players on the team and everyone works hard at their game. Between the talent and the work ethic, it’s kind of like a perfect storm.”