Chess grandmaster goes undefeated at Elon Law

One of the world’s top players visited downtown Greensboro to compete against students and faculty who learned that a single mistake is sometimes all it takes to find yourself checkmated.

They don’t call ’em “grandmasters” for nothing.

A world-renowned chess player already visiting North Carolina for a tournament and to spend time with family stopped by Elon Law on December 1, 2022, to compete against students and faculty eager to test their own skills against a champion of the game.

French-Israeli chess grandmaster Gabriel Flom didn’t disappoint. In fact, the man who describes the game as something “in my blood” did more than win his 17 matches, competing simultaneously around tables in the law school’s Small Business & Entrepreneurship Clinic.

Flom also taught. He taught how to use queens and knights in tandem. He taught how pawns can command the center of a board. He taught how not to use any single piece to repeatedly attack an opponent.

At times, a handful of students had flummoxed Flom, who’s played the game for nearly his entire life. But then Flom would spot an opponent’s mistake – maybe a gambit one move too soon, or an aggressive attack that created counterattack options. He’d smile. He’d crack a joke. And, in a few instances, he’d tell students how many moves remained until the game ended.

Gabriel Flom and Elon Law Professor David S. Levine discuss strategy and tactics. (Photo by Elliott Millner L’23)

Jacob Smith L’24, a graduate of Montana State University with an interest in wills and estates and small business law, picked up chess about a year ago. He was among the Elon Law students who jumped at the opportunity to compete against and learn from Flom.

“I realized that I might not ever get the opportunity to play a grandmaster again and this was something that I’d get to carry with me as a cherished memory,” Smith said. “The match taught me that you can play interesting and unique games of chess against anyone, even if you only have a basic understanding of the game.”

Gordon Cathcart L’23 has started chess clubs in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, and as an undergraduate at UNC Greensboro. Cathcart said he was taught chess as a child by his grandfather. Back then, he “hated losing while I was trying to learn.”

Gordon Cathcart L’23 (Photo by Elliott Millner L’23)

“Now losing while trying to learn is my favorite part of chess,” said Cathcart, who aspires to practice environmental law or public interest law and is a leader in efforts to start a board gaming student organization at Elon Law. “Mr. Flom is an exemplary tutor and role model, and I was excited for our club and school to meet him. I want to make sure he understood how grateful we were for his dedication to teaching and enriching the chess community.

“I learned that even when facing a world-renowned and top-rated opponent, sitting back, thinking carefully, and enjoying the game is always the best strategy.”

As for Flom? His multiple tournament wins and professional ranks bestowed by the International Chess Federation speak for themselves. So does his service to the chess community, where he teaches students who are blind in Jerusalem, mentors many of Israel’s top youth champions, and coaches the Trembley French Club, on top of the private lessons he offers.

Gabriel Flom and Elon Law Professor Andy Haile

He sees his coaching not just as an opportunity to make better chess players. He educates to make better people.

“You can learn a lot of things beyond just playing the game,” Flom said. “In chess, the way you react to a defeat is the way you react in life. It is important you learn how you handle defeats in both.”

Student Reflections

“I learned chess when I was a kid but never got into playing it until 2021. I love playing in my free time and when the opportunity to play a grandmaster came up, I had to do it. The match was a blast and I thought I played really well up into the end. I learned I’m probably a bit better than I thought!” – Liam O’Brien L’23, a Virginia Tech graduate with plans to practice in data privacy law

“What makes chess most enjoyable to me is the random opportunities it creates to meet and play with people from all walks of life. Since chess is one of the oldest games globally, one can always find and learn from new opponents and friends. I have a competitive nature. While there are a lot of people who play chess, a recreational player would rarely have an opportunity to play someone of Mr. Flom’s skill level.” – Rodney Favors L’23, a Georgia State University graduate interested in practicing business and government law 

“Getting to play against a chess grandmaster was a phenomenal opportunity. I’ve been learning to play now for a few months and competing against someone who can show me how to play better goes a long way for a hobby that I’ve become passionate about. I’m really glad that Elon had the opportunity to host him.” – Alex Long L’23, a Coastal Carolina University graduate with an interest in practicing criminal defense

“I started playing chess a month ago and I really enjoy how the game brings people together. It was fun and it was great learning from a grandmaster to bring more pieces out while I’m attacking as opposed to attacking with a single chess piece.” – Kirsten Tildon L’24, a Towson University graduate with possible interest in practicing business or health care law