Checkmate: Kwan outsmarts chess opponents in charity tournament

February 21st, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- You could hear the screams down the hallway at the Guardians’ Spring Training complex. If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought someone just found out they won the lottery. Instead, it was the most rambunctious chess tournament of all time.

The Guardians partnered with to host its first tournament for charity on Tuesday. The website has already been known to work with NFL players in its “BlitzChamps” tournament, and it was a no-brainer that Cleveland would be the perfect team to bring it to Major League Baseball.

Why? Well, the Guardians have had a chess club of their own for two years now. It began because for the last three years, the clubhouse has been dominated by chess games, especially during Spring Training. It largely began when and former Guardian Will Benson started going head-to-head and recruited more guys to get into the action.

“People just wanted a break between cards and just being on their phones,” Guardians outfielder and chess club member Kwan said. “It’s something you can have fun with somebody and work on your intellect at the same time.”

The Guardians have been playing against students in the John Marshall High School Chess Club over the last two years at school, at Progressive Field and even on When the website learned this, it inspired the partnership with the team to have chess reach a different demographic.

Here’s how the tournament worked: Eight participants from the team were entered into the contest with a $10,000 pot. First place took home $6,000 of the prize total to donate to a charity of his choice. Second place was rewarded with $3,000 for charity and third place got to donate $1,000. So, the Guardians went around the room to figure out who the fiercest competitors would be to compete in Tuesday’s matchups.

Guys like Kwan, Triston McKenzie and Bo Naylor, all of whom have spent countless hours practicing against the John Marshall students, were obvious participants. Will Brennan, Tanner Bibee, Austin Hedges, Daniel Schneemann and David Fry joined them to round out the eight-man bracket.

“This is awesome,” Kwan said. “[] is obviously what we play on every day just on our phones by ourselves, so the fact that they wanted to sponsor and do something is like extremely rewarding. I think it was really cool to see everybody was tuning in from different platforms. I didn’t know people cared about all of this.”

But they do. Halfway through the tournament, the producers of the live broadcast that was happening on, Youtube and on the Guardians’ homepage through, announced that more than 5,000 people were streaming the event. Two grandmasters, Robert Hess and Amen Hambleton, broadcasted the entire tournament on Zoom, bringing professional commentary to a room full of jovial baseball players, screaming at each other in playful trash talk.

Hedges, as expected, was the loudest. Schneemann was one of the favorites heading into the day. Brennan battled internet connection issues, joking that his computer was from the 1970s, and was eliminated early from contention. Kwan had the broadcast streaming on his phone while he was playing in order to read the live comments from fans in the chat to know who everyone was rooting for -- and he made sure the people who were being rooted against knew it.

The broadcast bounced around everyone’s built-in cameras on each computer. Not only could fans watch each virtual game on the screen in front of them, but they could also see the live reactions of the players while they made their moves.

McKenzie, Fry, Bibee and Brennan were eliminated in the early rounds. Naylor put up a fight against Schneemann but came up just shy of advancing to the championship. Hedges celebrated one win over Kwan, but ultimately, Kwan won the round to be sent to the finals against Schneemann.

In the end, it was Kwan, who began the chess craze in the Guardians’ clubhouse, winning the title and earning $6,000 for none other than the Cleveland Metropolitan School District Chess Clubs.

Kwan defeated McKenzie, Hedges and Schneemann over a span of 2 hours and 47 minutes to take the crown. So, does he think this experience will help him against his friends at John Marshall High School?

“Oh my gosh, no,” Kwan said. “I’ve accepted that I can’t beat them. So I just go out there and detach and have some fun and maybe they’ll teach me one thing, but they’re way too good.”