Luke M.

Luke M.

A collegiate chess club from Alaska has one advantage: Teams from elsewhere don’t know what’s coming at them.

Luke, a UAF math major, started the UAF club in 2021, his freshman year. But, given Alaska’s distant location, members haven’t played much against other collegiate teams and so aren’t ranked highly.

That started to change during a Seattle tournament in January 2023. UAF club members earned the “best surprise upset” award.

“Our rankings were basically zero, but our skills are much better than zero,” Luke said.

Luke, who grew up in Fairbanks, enjoyed working on a local peony flower farm. In high school, he also found a talent for statistics.


He combined the two at UAF’s Georgeson Botanical Garden, where he tried to find the best time to harvest peony buds by analyzing data on firmness, color and diameter. The magic formula eluded him, but he found some promising signs that color changes could provide clues.

Luke looked at attending colleges Outside before choosing UAF.

“I’ve traveled a lot with my parents, and so I’ve seen a lot of other places,” he said. “But I still prefer Fairbanks.”

That’s in part because he enjoys the winters. “I run out in this ϳԹ,” he said on a February day when temperatures were about 5 degrees below zero. “It makes you feel alive.”

He knows not everyone feels the same, so he’s happy that the chess club offers some UAF students a “little community.”

“There were a lot of people who said that helped them get through the dark winter,” he said.