Saturday, October 9, 2010

New Chess Center Opens in Skokie, Illinois

Today is National Chess Day. Unfortunately, it didn't get much publicity, but hopefully that will change as time goes by :)

From The Chicago Tribune
Chess center makes opening moves in Skokie
Game of kings offers something for everyone, from kindergartners to grandmasters
By Lisa Black, Tribune reporter
6:55 p.m. CDT, October 9, 2010

GM Mesgen Amanov (in black, on the left). Why can't GMs
who look like this play in my neighborhood???
The grandmaster passed quietly from one chessboard to the next, nearly 20 in all, spending less than five seconds to face each player and make his move. Observers spoke in hushed tones as Mesgen Amanov took on all comers all at once during a "simul" — or simultaneous exhibition — at the newly opened North Shore Chess Center in Skokie.

While Saturday's summery weather beckoned others outdoors, these players, from schoolchildren to senior citizens, were prepared to concentrate on their game for hours at the center's grand opening, timed to coincide with National Chess Day. While chess clubs have organized throughout the Chicago area, there are few facilities like the one in Skokie dedicated solely to the board game, said Sevan Muradian, the center's founder and president of the North American Chess Association.

"It's a great mind sport," Muradian said. "There is something for everyone."

After Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen participated in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, entire families arrived to participate in Saturday's event at the center, located at 5500 W. Touhy Ave., Suite A.

Jonathan Hrach, 12, a 7th-grader from Highland Park, regularly competes in tournaments and ranks within the top 15 nationally among his age group, his father, Oskar Hrach, said.

"You get to use your head a lot," Jonathan said. Being good at math helps too, because "you calculate the moves and variations and openings."

Minutes later, he was among a steadily growing group of players ready to take on the grandmaster behind boards lined up along two narrow tables. Each waited for Amanov to appear before them before moving a chess piece and watching his response. They then scribbled the moves down in a notepad to examine later.

Amanov, 24, travels the world playing chess, having earned the esteemed "grandmaster" title three years ago. He lives in Northbrook but hails from Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic, where he started playing the game at age 5, he said.

He coaches students, speaks on chess and plays professionally. Earlier last week, he returned from the 39th Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

He encourages children to play because "it develops the brain. You think fast and make very good decisions. You have to be strong."

Shiva Maharaj, a coach for Chicago Chess Kids, emphasized that the skills needed for the game — concentration, patience and problem-solving — can be incorporated into every child's education and applied to daily life.

"You teach them to reflect," he said. "All of life is the experience of reflection, really. When you make mistakes, you learn from them."

The game has traditionally attracted more male than female players. But that is changing, Muradian said. In January, an all-girls chess tournament for kindergartners through 12th-graders is scheduled at Niles North High School, according to the Illinois Chess Association.

Muradian, an information technologist, foresees new computer software applications that will make the game easier and more fun for the youngest players, including his 3-year-old daughter.

"This is not just for the grandmasters," he said. "It's a self-improvement type of activity."

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