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Check mate

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Check mate

By Kami Rice, freelance writer
 
My friend Julie taught me to play chess. We were in late junior high or early high school, hanging out at her house in little ol’ Hampton, Tennessee. As I recall, she had recently been playing chess with two of her cousins, so it was fresh on her mind. I was up for learning. So she taught me.
                       
And I won.
 
Perhaps Julie was a better teacher than player. Or perhaps it was just that proverbial beginner’s luck that helped my white pieces beat her black pieces. Whatever it was, it seems I’ve chosen the route recommended by age-old wisdom: retire while you’re at the top of your game.
 
I’m pretty sure I haven’t taken on any opposing bishops or knights since then, so I would need another lesson before I could pick up my winning ways again.
 
When I lived in Washington, DC, I sometimes walked to Lafayette Park for lunch. It’s located in the northern shadow of the White House. Lafayette Park was a few blocks further away from my northwest DC office than Farragut Park or other even smaller plots of grass, but it often seemed quieter and somehow more out of the way, so it was worth the walk.
 
I still carry with me visual images from that park of something I’d previously thought had just been made up for movies like Searching for Bobby Fischer, idyllic images of community used to make us yearn for the good ol’ days when people talked to each other. But those movie images turned out to represent some people’s real life.
 
As I bit into my sandwiches on sunny summer days, I watched businessmen gather around park tables with other men who looked to be either homeless or retired or engaged in some line of work that did not require dressing up. Between them rested chessboards and chess pieces. By all appearances they were strangers meeting in the park for some lunchtime competition and companionship.
 
I don’t think the people sharing the café at Borders with me tonight are strangers to each other, but they do have chessboards between them. Four tables with plastic chess mats rolled out on them. Six men, three boys rotating through the tables. Community in action.
 
They’ve had visitors. Family members browsing through the store during Chess Hour who stop by periodically to check in. Spouses checking mate I suppose you could say.
 
Seated closest to me, I’ve just learned, are Jerry Wheeler and eight-year-old Harrison Ooi (pronounced “we”). I found out from them that the group of chess players in the café tonight is none other than the Williamson County Chess Club, which has connections to the Nashville Chess Center. The Nashville Chess Center is the primary chess club in Middle Tennessee.
 
Jerry is a Lifemaster. I think that probably means he’s pretty good and knows a thing or two about chess. He gives lessons to help kids like Harrison prepare to compete in kids’ chess tournaments. Chess, Jerry explains, “is a great educational tool to train young minds. And it’s fun, too.”
 
Harrison offers, “It’s fun. My teacher is fun,” before running off to play one more game with one of the other young boys present.
 
The Williamson County Chess Club meets at the Brentwood Borders every Tuesday night. I’m surprised I haven’t run into them here before. “This is a great place to come—especially for beginners—because it’s informal,” Jerry notes.
 
In addition to teaching chess, Jerry also teaches Chinese Chess and Go, both ancient Chinese games. “These games are great for children, and they introduce some diversity to the American public.”
 
To learn more about how you, too, can become a Lifemaster or at least learn to play a little chess, visit the Nashville Chess Center online at www.NashvilleChess.org.
 
 
Kami Rice lives in Brentwood and rarely experiences a dull moment. If you, however, need to be rescued from a dull moment, you can check out her teeny, tiny corner of the blogosphere: The Coffeehouse Journals. Contrary to all appearances, Kami does have a life outside coffee.