A message from director Keith Ammann:
Recently, I was at the Julius Meinl coffeehouse in Lakeview with another Chicago Chess Center board member. He was playing a game with one of our Founders' Court members. I was giving opening pointers to another customer, the organizer of a German conversation group, who had come over to see what we were up to. A couple of college-age women at the table beside us wondered aloud where the chess sets had come from; I offered them one of our extras, and they played game after game between themselves. It was an inspiring example in miniature of how chess can bring people together into a community.
But there were also a few spectators who declined our invitations to join us, despite their curiosity, because they felt they didn't know enough even to play casually. The very idea seemed to make them anxious.
Those of us who enjoy chess may sometimes forget how intimidating it can be. To many people, the world of chess appears closed-off, unfriendly, impossibly arcane. Even those of us who learn the game as youngsters and grow to love it may hit a wall of some kind—a stinging defeat, a losing streak, an unpleasant encounter with an obnoxious player, or simply a shortage of opportunities to play—and leave the game behind, never to return.
Why does that matter? Because thanks to its depth, chess brings not only enjoyment but benefits as well, from mental exercise to self-discovery and self-expression to the chance to meet other players with different life experiences.
I was one of those players who hit the wall. I learned the rules of chess at age 8—but learning the rules isn't the same as learning how to play, and by age 16, I'd become frustrated enough that I no longer played. It wasn't until five years ago that I returned to the game with the resolve to become a better player. And I owe what success I've had so far to Boston's Boylston Chess Club and its tournament director, Bernardo Iglesias, who not only made me feel welcome (and lured me in with a $10 tournament entry fee) but answered my questions about tournament directing between rounds.
I took that knowledge, and my renewed enthusiasm for the game, to Freeport, Ill., where I helped organize the Route 20 Chess Club, whose tournaments drew players from as far as 90 minutes away, and coached a middle school chess team to a fourth-place finish at its first-ever state tournament.
As a TD, organizer and coach, my goal has been to throw the door wide open to anyone with even the most casual interest in the game, to eliminate barriers to entry, to give players every opportunity to achieve their potential, and to make the experience as enjoyable and fulfilling as it can be.
Now, as president of Chicago Chess Center NFP Inc., I want to do the same for Chicagoland, where I grew up and have lived for more than half my life, by establishing an educational and civic institution where anyone and everyone is welcome to play and learn—two of the activities that make us our most complete selves.
When we meet our $30,000 goal, we'll be able to secure a site, furnish it, and begin offering classes, tournaments and other activities. A donation of $50 may buy five chess sets or a game clock; $250 will buy a table and chairs or a whiteboard; $1,000 will buy a computer and digital projector—or a year's membership for a dozen low-income students.
Thank you for helping us to bring the pleasures and benefits of chess to Chicagoans of all ages, skill levels and backgrounds. If you have questions or would like to contribute in additional ways, such as by helping spread the word about the Chicago Chess Center or offering professional assistance, please feel free to send us an e-mail.
President, Chicago Chess Center NFP Inc.
P.S. We're determined to make this vision a reality in 2014. If we meet our fundraising goal by Dec. 31—and we're already halfway there—we can be up and running in a matter of months. Please donate now—and spread the word.