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Second annual Bellingham Open aims to grow Bellingham chess scene

Western’s chess club collaborated with the Washington Chess Foundation to host chess tournament for all

Chess pieces sit on and off a board outside Western’s bookstore at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on Sunday, April 21, 2024. Participants practice outside of the main room in between rounds. // Photo by Peyton Perdue

On Sunday, April 21, silent chess players filled the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room. Their attentive eyes fixed on the black and white pieces that littered the table as their hands moved with intention to combat their opponent’s last move.

Last week, in partnership with the Washington Chess Foundation, Western Washington University Chess Club hosted the second annual Bellingham Open chess tournament. Players of all ages and expertise were welcome to test their skills.

The winner of the open was Dominic M. Colombo and the winner of the reserve U1700 was David Hirschowitz.

The 2024 Bellingham Open was a ranked tournament with five rounds. The tournament had two sections, ranked and reserve U1700, for players with a sub-1700 ranking.  Individual player’s rankings are measured by their wins, losses or draws in combination with the opponent's ratings.

The difference between an open tournament and an invitational tournament is the opportunity for any skill level or ranking to join, unlike an invitational, where you must be selected to play.

According to Arlo Breslauer, president of Western’s chess club, this year’s tournament had around 70 participants. Last year the number was closer to 100, he said.

Steve Szirom, the founder and chief organizer of the Bellingham Chess Club, said the Bellingham Open is significant for multiple reasons.

According to Szirom, the Bellingham chess scene is small but trying to grow in the Northwest region. Tournaments like the Bellingham Open help to bring players from around the region and establish Bellingham as a chess destination.

“It brings players from not just Whatcom County, but in the Northwest area,” Szirom said. “The sponsors, which are Western and the Northwest Chess Foundation, are a good combination because they can advertise to a lot of potential players.”


Participants of the Bellingham Open play in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on Sunday, April 21, 2024. The tournament was five rounds long. // Photo by Peyton Perdue

Szirom said he enjoys chess because it is a metaphor for life.

“Each move you make presents a new challenge, which requires careful thinking and foresight,” Szirom said. “The moves that you make reflect your personality, your strengths, your weaknesses, your approach and how you overcome adversity.”

Last year, former Western Chess Club President Harrison Toppen-Ryan created the Bellingham Open. He said that his idea for the event stemmed from a need for more tournaments in the Bellingham area.

Toppen-Ryan said that tournaments with rankings are important for chess players looking to improve their ratings and compete with other ranked players.

Another factor in improving tournament attendance was the waving of fees for anyone associated with Western. Toppen-Ryan said that by allowing students and faculty to play in the tournament for free, there was a significant increase in participation – both this year and last.

Toppen-Ryan also said that there is also a demand for chess at all ages. He said that chess is a popular after-school activity for many students, some as young as elementary, which leads to further interest in the game.

“I never expected to find that many people that were just like me,” Toppen-Ryan said. “It’s important to me because I was able to actually find good friendships just by going to the same club.”

This year, Western’s Chess Club has introduced more lessons, game reviews and other social interactions, Breslauer said.

“We are trying to create more of a group feel,” Breslauer said. He suggested anyone looking to get involved with chess at Western visit the club’s Instagram page for more information.

“Chess is cool, we are just here to have fun,” Breslauer said.

Peyton Perdue

Peyton Perdue (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a second-year visual journalism major minoring in religion and culture studies. When she’s not reporting, you can find her taking pictures, reading or (most likely) napping. You can reach Peyton at

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