CHICAGO — Rick Rysso is admittedly a poor chess player, but he became so enamored with the game that he spent the better part of two years filming some of the state's best teams and players for a self-produced documentary.
Rysso also recently released the first trailer for "Chess State," which features Whitney Young and Marshall's chess programs — plus several suburban ones — despite moving to Anchorage, Alaska, in the past year to work as a television photojournalist. He hopes to have the complete film debut in the summer of next year.
"I was fascinated by how [the players] remember almost every move in the match," said Rysso, 28, who first filmed chess while on a separate assignment for Naperville Community Television in January 2010.
"I figured [chess] would be the perfect subject for a documentary," Rysso added. "The uniqueness of it played a huge part. I wouldn't be as motivated to do a documentary on football or basketball."
Rysso filmed the teams from November 2011 through July 2013. Many of the highlights come from the preparation for and participation in the IHSA 2012 state meet, won by Niles North and where Whitney Young, led by five-time national champion Sam Schmakel, placed third. Rysso said the tournament, which had 138 teams this year, is the largest high school team chess competition in the U.S.
The movie then follows Schmakel's Whitney Young teammate, Michael Auger, of Jefferson Park, and Niles North star Eric Rosen, as they continued their careers at the University of Illinois in 2012 and 2013.
"I am happy to see chess getting some mainstream coverage," said Schmakel, of North Edgebrook, and now a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"It is interesting that this documentary helps illustrate how intense and pressure-filled the competition can be at the high school level," Schmakel added. "I am thankful that they filmed a wide variety of people playing chess and did not just focus on one team or individual."
"Chess State" also includes footage of Marshall's chess program, led by coach Joseph Ocol, and an eventual loss to Homewood-Flossmoor in the first round of the 2012 state tourney. Ocol, who also guides the Faraday Elementary team, said he was thrilled his clubs would be showcased in the film.
"Yes, I am excited, on behalf of the kids, for Marshall and Faraday to be part of this documentary," said Ocol, of Albany Park, in an email.
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