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WWU and Washington Chess Federation host first annual Bellingham Open

The tournament, held on April 22, welcomed about 90 players from around the Pacific Northwest

Harrison Toppen-Ryan, the WWU Chess Club president, contemplating his next move. The event was planned by Toppen-Ryan back in the fall of 2022. // Photo Courtesy of Harrison Toppen-Ryan

Western Washington University and the Washington Chess Federation co-hosted the first annual Bellingham Open on Saturday, April 22 in the Viking Union Multipurpose Room, a five-round Swiss chess tournament with an Open and Reserve U1700 section, meaning reserved for players with a rating below 1700. Games ran for 30 minutes, with a 10-second increment per move.

The tournament was rated by the Northwest Scholastic Rating System and US Chess, two widely recognized rating systems, though only the open section was US Chess Federation-rated. The higher of players’ current NWSRS or April 2023 US Chess Regular Rating was used to determine sections, pairings, and prizes. Results can be found on Chess Ratings Northwest’s website.

The prize fund was around $1,400 based on 70 paid entries, and the highest-finishing Washington resident in the open section will be seeded into the 2024 Washington State Championship Premier section.

WWU Chess Club president, Harrison Toppen-Ryan, organized the event. He contacted Washington Chess Federation president, Josh Sinanan, in October 2022 to begin planning the tournament.

Founder and organizer of the Bellingham Knights Chess Club Steve Szirom has experience hosting monthly USCF-rated chess tournaments prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and said the process includes finding a venue and promoting the event, as well as facing logistical challenges.

As a Western student, Toppen-Ryan was able to reserve the Multipurpose Room in the VU and promoted the event through WWU Chess Club.

Toppen-Ryan was motivated to organize the tournament because there aren’t many rated tournaments in the Bellingham area, and Sinanan was happy to have an event accessible to local players.

“The Bellingham region is a hugely underserved area in terms of chess tournaments,” Sinanan said.

For a chess tournament to be officially rated, according to Szirom, players must be members of the USCF and the tournament director must be USCF-affiliated. He noted there are not many players with active USCF memberships in Whatcom County.

“One of the goals of the Bellingham Knights Chess Club is to promote and foster a bigger chess community in the Whatcom County area,” Szirom said.

Turnout at the Bellingham Open exceeded Sinanan’s expectations, with about 90 players competing. Besides Western students, faculty and staff, players traveled from around the Pacific Northwest to attend the tournament.

Fourth-year Western student and WWU Chess Club member Benjamin Fritz has been playing chess since around age 8 and enjoyed his experience.

“It was my first tournament, so I was really excited to see how I’d do against pros,” he said.

In the fourth round, Fritz had an intense back-and-forth game against a highly rated player where he came ahead around move 30, which was a highlight of the tournament for him.

“The game of chess is a fun, logical game to test your mind,” Fritz said.

Beyond helping with memory, analytical reasoning and spatial sense, chess is a unique, non-verbal conversation between two people, according to Sinanan.

“You’re there to create something interesting, beautiful or brilliant with your opponent. There’s a creative aspect to it,” he said. “Chess is what you want it to be.”

After the tournament’s success, Sinanan and Toppen-Ryan are already planning a second Bellingham Open for spring 2024.

“We’re hoping to make this an annual tradition,” Sinanan said.

Toppen-Ryan hopes to make 2024’s Bellingham Open a more serious tournament. He hinted it could be a two-day tournament with longer games and a bigger prize fund.

In the meantime, Toppen-Ryan urges Western students to check out WWU Chess Club, which is open to all skill levels.

Sinanan welcomes new players to chess and emphasized it is a game players of all ages can enjoy.

“It’s the game of kings, and the king of games,” Sinanan said.

Thalia Coulter

Thalia Coulter (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front. She is in her second year at Western and is a public relations major with a Spanish minor. When not on campus or at work, Thalia can be found grabbing a bite to eat downtown with friends. You can reach her at

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