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Chess match thrilling even for spectators

by Brian H. Pitts

You never knew a mere board game could be so complicated.

International Chess Master (IM) Maurice Ashley made a straightforward game of chess complex Sunday. He competed against 20 players at once, highlighting last weekend's celebration of chess at Oberlin, which included Oberlin's Third Annual Chess Tournament. The tournament attracted nearly 100 players from Ohio, including two other IM's.

"Simultaneous exhibition may seem crazy to [a chess] outsider, but it is normal for an IM to do," Ashley said.

Little in his play is normal. Ashley studies the game pieces and chooses moves in seconds, then proceeds to the next board. If the idea seems baffling to you, it was easy for Ashley who won 17 of the games and drew the other three.

In the tournament, two other IM's battled for the championship and captivated the crowd in their final match. Their play typified the competitive mood of the tournament. They intently studied the chessboard and quickly made their moves. At times, members of the audience were so enthralled with the action that they hovered over the players and the chessboard. The match ended when time expired, leaving spectators as well as the players, with no conclusive winner.

The chess masters were not the only ones to enjoy the contests. Oberlin alumni from Connecticut, Ron Tanner OC'75 and Carol Bass OC'77, made the trip to Oberlin for the tournament. Their 11 year old son Scott, won first prize in his division and explained why chess appeals to him. ""I like the competition. It gets really tense," he said.

This intense tone is not unusual. Chess devotees understand the game beyond its tranquil appearance. They treasure chess because it provides competition, mental stimulation and subtle intensity.

Ashley, who has coached six national championship teams and individuals, said, "I love competing. For me, competition brings out the best in a person. It teaches you how to win graciously and lose elegantly."

Senior Elan Rodan who teaches advanced chess and is a member of the Oberlin Chess Club (OCC), finds the game challenging. "You're faced with the position of finding a move ... That's most thrilling - the challenge is exciting." Rodan has played chess for 14 years. Smiling, he mentioned he sometimes can be a chess fanatic. "It's easy to become a fanatic," said Rodan

Rodan and other members of OCC share their zeal with fellow Oberlin students. They are teaching three chess ExCo courses at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. OCC also sponsors an after-school chess program at Prospect Elementary School. Six volunteers teach third, fourth and fifth graders how to play chess.

Chess has its loyal followers. It is not unusual for chess fans to travel around the country to play a game or two. Jim Rokoskoy, an assistant tournament director, said, "It's hard to find a good tournament. I've gone as far as Tucson, Las Vegas and Little Rock."

The thrill of overcoming the challenges of chess can breed fanaticism in devotees.

Once you overcome one challenge, there are always more, Rodan said. "You can always go deeper," Rodan said.

Tournament Director Wuyanbu Zutali, who has coached state champions, was invited to come in from Canton to direct the tournament. Chess is, "The love of my life," Zutali said. And he's not alone.

"Chess is booming in Ohio," Zutali said. More young people, especially girls, are playing chess, he said. He credits a large part of the boom to computer chess games.

"It's a challenging game," said fifth grader Mesha White. She plays with Janell Johnson, also a fifth grader. Johnson likes chess because, "You really have to think."

Third grader Scott Koenning also finds chess demanding. "Chess itself is pretty intense... You wonder what your opponent is going to do - mess up your plans?" he said.

During a "messy" match between Koenning and Rodan, Koenning focused intently on the board. He was frustrated with his position. It was early in the game, and Rodan moved his bishop into a position to seize Koenning's queen.

"Oh, I hate it, I hate it," Scott mumbled down into the chessboard.

"You made an unpleasant move. I'll show you it was a mistake," Rodan said. Scott soon learned that he moved one of his pawns forward too quickly leaving his queen unprotected.

Suddenly the complicated chess match is a mere board game.

One on 20: International Master of Chess, Maurice Ashley plays 20 competitors simultaneously. Moving from board to board, AShley was able to win 17 and draw three of teh games in last weekend's chess celebration. (photo by Marioan Maloney)


Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 16; February 28, 1997

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