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College senior and Philo member Aro Velmet, who played the white queen, feigns death after being checkmated in the human chess tournament Saturday. Credit: Maanvi Singh

A group of students dressed in drag and bishop hats — together with a gallon of iced tea and a cardboard cut-out of Senator John McCain — faced off in the Philomathean Society’s second annual human chess game on Saturday.

The human chess pieces gathered in the Perelman Quadrangle Saturday afternoon and took their positions on a giant chalk-drawn chess board.

Brandishing plastic swords and vacuum cleaners, the human pieces moved according to the rules of a traditional board bound game of chess as guided by two directors. The first game was directed by College junior Barry Slaff and Julia Hart, former Daily Pennsylvanian staff reporter and 2009 College graduate.

The victorious white queen, College senior and former Philo second consul Aro Velment, who showed off his legs wearing a white miniskirt, attracted attention early when he proclaimed, “I’m the white queen and I’m fabulous.”

He didn’t mind being moved around the board either: “It’s good for the figure, as they say. Bitches.”

Hart’s white team won a decisive victory after a fast-paced game that ended with Slaff giving up after his queen was taken.

The black team faced a crushing defeat, especially after rigorous training. Slaff joked that he brought in weekly “motivational speakers for five figures a pop” and made his team do 200 push-ups a day.

Team loyalty was high among the pieces as well as their directors. College sophomore William Staffeld, who dressed as the black bishop, said he is sticking with the black team for good: “Once you go black, you can’t go back,” he said.

And with each capture, the pieces drew their respective plastic swords, light sabers and vacuums and dueled to a feigned death.

The second game, directed by College freshman Ushma Shah and Engineering freshman Deborah Kasner on the white team and College sophomore Tim Lew on black team, ended in victory for Lew.

Bickering between teams aside, the event was a part of Philo’s larger goal to engage with members of the Penn community. Slaff started the tradition last year as a way to involve students outside of Philo.

“Philo events are not supposed to be exclusive at all” Slaff said. “Most of our events are of a more academic nature,” so the Society wanted to “involve people in a more fun way.”

Attendance was small, however, which is why “Comrade Iced Tea” and the cardboard McCain had to stand in as pawns, according to College senior Emily Kern.

“Being intellectual is about asking big questions, but it’s also about having fun,” Kern said. “Fun” plans for next year might even include a campus-wide game of capture the flag.

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