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October 29, 2012

Check mates: Chess Club of Southern Indiana celebrates one year, seeks new players

NEW ALBANY — Just about a week ago, Hazelwood Middle School student Christian Harp started playing chess, a game that has been around for centuries.

“It’s a fun game. I’m really catching on,” Harp said.

He said he is able to improve his skill by playing such friends as Parkview Middle School student Josh Mayfield. He also gets better by attending the weekly Chess Club of Southern Indiana meetings at Silver Street United Methodist Church in New Albany.

The club was founded a year ago, and it’s the first of its kind in Southern Indiana since the 1970s.

Founder John Warth is very glad to have an official club once again. The group is open to all ages and skill levels, and members will help those new to the game.

“Almost everyone who comes has played chess before. We seldom see people who haven’t played, but we are prepared to teach them,” said Warth, who also is a private chess instructor, and reviews top chess books for Chess Cafe.

Interestingly, as Warth explained, chess has changed very little since the end of the Renaissance period, and it has attracted a lot of interest through the years. In 1972, chess became popular in the U.S. after Bobby Fisher won the World Championship. Warth explained that he would like to see interest as high as it was then. So far, the weekly meetings attract about a dozen or so, but the club can accommodate up to 70 players.

“If they are here, they want to play or learn to play. Most people sometime in their life become curious, but are often discouraged because it’s a difficult game,” Warth said. “The key is to play people close to your level, or just above to work your way up gradually. It’s not fun to be beaten day in and day out by someone that is so far beyond your capabilities.”

Warth said he recommends that players study chess books and videos in order to get to a higher skill level. Playing tournaments also leads to a higher rank.

Nathan Austin is a top player who started in the game in 1974 when he was 19.

“Someone asked if I wanted to play, so I did. I really liked it. I’ve always been a strategic-type person, so it suited me. The more I played, the more I enjoyed it,” said Austin, who plays in tournaments throughout the country. Someday, Austin would like to be at the grand master level of chess.

Bob Sorrow considers himself new to the game, with two years of playing.

“My favorite part is winning, and the biggest challenge is these guys,” said Sorrow, who says he is getting better at the game every day and continues to study chess books.  

Chess Club of Southern Indiana is also a resource for Boy Scouts who are working toward a chess merit badge. Warth said the chess badge is a challenge to obtain, and the chess club can be a place for Scouts to strengthen their game. The chess club also is available to bring chess to organizations, schools, retirement homes, churches and anywhere they are invited.

Silver Street United Methodist also holds a food bank for the community, and the chess club is giving back by asking its members to bring canned goods in order to support the mission of the church.

For more information, “like” the Chess Club of Southern Indiana on Facebook. Silver Street United Methodist Church is located at 413 Silver St. in New Albany. The club meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays.

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