Chess, one of the world’s oldest and most popular strategy board games, has the power to bring players together, regardless of age or background. There’s something universal about lining …
Chess, one of the world’s oldest and most popular strategy board games, has the power to bring players together, regardless of age or background. There’s something universal about lining up the pieces, contriving a sequence of moves in one’s head, then getting decimated on the board by a superior foe.
But beyond the head-to-head nature of the game, there’s opportunity for conversation and community building.
Local organizations, Skillmation, Chess Night Port Townsend, and the Blue Heron Middle School Chess Club are teaming up to bring the first-ever Port Townsend Spring Swiss Classic chess tournament at the middle school.
Set to start at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 3, the tourney will follow the open Swiss format with four rounds of matches.
The Swiss format means that regardless of results from prior matches, each participant will have the opportunity to play in all four rounds. Players will earn one point for winning their match, half a point for a draw or bye, and zero points for a loss and cash prizes will be awarded to the overall champion, second-best overall, and the best high school and middle school player. Cash prizes include $80 for first overall, $65 for second overall, and $35 each for the best middle school and high school players.
Interested parties can register for the tourney at chessregister.com/register?event_key=a9TOqyP4NIo7U9OoXDnCWw%3D%3D.
It costs $20 for adults to register and $10 for students, with the money raised going toward tournament costs, cash prizes, and the Blue Heron Middle School Chess Club. Players of all skill ranges and backgrounds
are invited to participate in the event. The games are 30 minutes per player from the opening move and organizers ask participants to bring their own chess set, board, and clock if possible.
NEW CLUB, NEW INTEREST
The push for the inaugural tournament stems from the recent formation of the Blue Heron Middle School Chess Club, which started up at the beginning of this school year with the assistance of longtime educator and Skillmation volunteer Gary Smith.
“At the end of the last school year, the first year the kids came back full time, the Blue Heron principal contacted me, saying ‘We need a chess club,’” Smith said.
It didn’t take long for the newly-founded club to pick up momentum.
“They set up in the cafeteria during lunch, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders,” Smith said, adding, “by Christmas, they were running six or seven games at a time during lunch with the noise of the cafeteria going on.”
As the club continued to grow, with students utilizing YouTube to learn to play and get involved, Smith realized he might need a little help from his Skillmation peers.
“At this point I realized these guys need more than me, so I contacted David Kerr, who started the Tuesday night chess club at Aldrich’s,” he said. “After coffee, we talked ideas and he got excited about mentoring these young people.”
Kerr and local chess enthusiast Morgan Conrad joined forces with Smith to help mentor the blossoming chess players and connect with them. And based on the results of the club’s first chess tournament in southwest Washington, it looks like the extra help worked out.
“By February, we went to Centralia for the Southwest Washington Chess Championship tournament, and there were middle school high school kids from all over Western Washington,” Smith said. “The Blue Heron groups, eight of them I think, placed third in the chess tourney.”
COMMUNITY THROUGH CHESS
Beyond the competitive side and education benefits of the board game, Smith sees the club as a great opportunity to connect the students with the greater community.
“This chess tournament is an attempt to prove both to myself and the greater community that this is viable way to connect across all demographics,” he said. “There’s no age, gender, or social or economic barrier that prohibits the barrier of entry into the activity.”
Moving to Port Townsend back in 2017 after a 40-plus year career working in special education and as an education consultant, Smith’s focus remains on inclusivity, mentorship, and support.
“In terms of bringing the community together, that’s what inspires me,” he said. “My passion is kids and how they learn.”
HOPEFUL TO RETURN
If tournament organizers play their moves right, they hope to make it a longstanding community event.
“Being a teacher type, I don’t start any endeavor until I have a goal,” Smith said. “Kids [in Port Townsend] say there’s not much to do, and we have a responsibility for addressing that need for kids. This is one more activity creating the kind of community here we all want to live in and we all want to belong to.”
Smith is hoping to see 40 to 60 participants at the inaugural tourney.
“If I can generate that kind of interest or at least enough to give it momentum, I can envision it growing from there,” Smith said.
For any questions on the upcoming chess tournament, contact Smith at email@example.com. To learn more about Skillmation and the organization’s work with local schools and programs, visit www.skillmation.org.