Regional high school teacher Dan Sharkovitz was on his cell phone last Monday afternoon, trying to figure out a transportation plan. The school’s seven-member chess team, which Mr. Sharkovitz advises, had qualified for the championship match of the Southeastern Massachusetts Interscholastic Chess League finals. But there was a conflict.

“We couldn’t get a bus,” Mr. Sharkovitz explained after he had finished texting the opposition’s coach in Fairhaven to reschedule the game to April 7. The students next needed permissions from teachers to leave class early. They needed to get nurses’ verifications that they could compete. Just like with any other team, maybe.

Kevin Montambault plays Willow Wunsch; Lee Faraca plays Jake Janak; Alex GordonBeck plays Brahmin Thurber-Carbone. — Ivy Ashe

“If you went in the other room there and asked all those kids, hey, did you know our chess team competes, they’d say no,” co-captain Lee Faraca said during a recent interview in Room 413, where the team practices. “I think it’s generally seen as more of a club, not a team. People don’t know we compete.”

The team ended up losing in 4-1 in the finals match to defending champion Fairhaven. The Vineyard team went into the finals with a 7-2-1 record. Lee is joined by fellow senior co-captains Kevin Montambault and Willow Wunsch, seniors Brad Fielding and Jeffrey McCormick, junior Jake Janak, and sophomore Brahmin Thurber-Carbone.

Some of the competitors also have years of practice behind them. Lee taught himself to play chess in preschool and has been on the high school team since he was in third grade (he is the second person to join in third grade; the first was Eric Herman, a 2005 graduate). He tutors kids at the West Tisbury school in chess during the fall and summer, passing on his skills to the next generation of players.

There’s no age requirement to be a good chess player, no minimum height. You don’t need to be physically strong or in shape, you just have to be ready.

Chess team adviser Dan Sharkovitz gives Lee Faraca some tips. — Ivy Ashe

“Intellectually ready, emotionally ready, spiritually ready,” Mr. Sharkovitz said. “You win inside your opponent’s mind.” Lee, he said, is a classic example of understanding the best strategies to do so, partially because he has been a David among Goliaths for most of his career.

“If you can just imagine a third-grader playing seniors in high school—I’d say it was probably more intimidating for the opponent than for me, but it was still pretty nerve-wracking,” Lee said.

“He’s been a captain for years,” Mr. Sharkovitz said. Lee is also a two-year captain of the soccer team. “He gets things organized, he gets things done. I think that since Lee has played for so long, he has been an inspiration to our team.”

One player can win a match, but getting to the league finals is a team effort.

The chess season is short. It typically starts in January, but because of the snow interrupting travel plans this year, it didn’t really get underway until late February. Players typically come from the more informal chess club, which meets after school just to play for fun. Mr. Sharkovitz asks the strongest players in the club if they want to move up to the next level.

Brahmin Thurber-Carbone moves against Alex GordonBeck. — Ivy Ashe

This season, numbers were low—five people are needed to compete in a match—so one afternoon Lee stood at the entrance of Room 413, asking passerbys if they wanted to come join the team. That’s how Jeffrey and Jake came on board. Jake learned the game in second grade and played the occasional online match. A member of the track team, he found the competitive aspect of the game compelling.

“If you’re the last game in the round, and it’s tied 2-2, and there’s a lot of pressure on you and everyone’s kind of watching or listening, that makes it more fun,” Jake said, adding, “If you end up winning."

During a chess match each player is allotted 45 minutes to make their moves, meaning the game will last a maximum time of an hour and a half. Most games are over faster, though. After making a move, the player hits a timer, which starts the clock for their opponent.

“If I’m timed, no matter how long it is, I feel like I’m more efficient,” Brad said. It can force a player into mistakes, too, which makes the game “a little more interesting,” he said.

Willow Wunsch, Kevin Montambault, Lee Faraca, and Jake Janak. — Ivy Ashe

When the team is immersed in its game a palpable silent tension takes over the atmosphere, broken only by the tick-ticks of the timer. The only movement comes from players’ eyes as they flick over the board (actually a rolled-up mat with green and white squares printed on it) and the confident motions of hands reaching down to capture pieces.

“I always start off really fast and then once things get really complicated and you have to start to think my move time increases a lot,” Lee said.

“It’s dead silent, you just hear the timers going. It’s intense,” Willow said. Willow, like Lee, taught chess to younger students at her former school.

Chess players on other teams often memorize certain moves and countermoves, but that doesn’t always help in a match.

“Sometimes, those kids that just rely on ‘This is what I’m going to do if he does this,’ you can do something that’s unexpected, like throw them a curve ball,” Jake said. “They’ll freak out; they don’t know what to do.”

Willow Wunsch: “It’s dead silent, you just hear the timers going. It’s intense." — Ivy Ashe

Every player has a different style of attacking the chess board, which Lee says tends to depend on individual personalities. Mr. Sharkovitz helps develop their games; during a recent practice he offered Jake advice on playing with the black pieces (playing with white pieces is generally peoples’ strong suit because white gets to go first, offering an immediate advantage).

“Don’t lose tempo. Try to take the advantage away from them. Establish control of the middle game,” Jake said to his adviser.

“[Mr. Sharkovitz] organizes all of this for us and makes a lot of it possible,” Lee said. “Without him, I don’t think chess club would exist. It’d just be a thing in study hall.”