As one steps into the Culpeper County Library’s large meeting room what immediately comes to mind is just how much fun a chess tournament can be, all preconceived notions about chess-playing young people are immediately shattered by the smiles and laughter emanating from the room.
There was a party-like atmosphere until the seriousness and focus take over at the start of official play at the Culpeper Chess Club’s Tournament for rated and unrated players in elementary, middle and adult levels held last Saturday. The tournament attracted about 30 players of varying levels of age and experience. Trophies were awarded for the top three players in each rated and unrated categories.
One could see a wealth of expressions on the faces of young players as they developed strategies, made moves and experienced victories or defeats. The game of kings was alive and well.
“We had a really good turnout. The kids were enthusiastic. For the older players there’s camaraderie among fellow chess players. For the younger ones, there’s the thrill of the pieces and game. There tends to be a major shift in thinking about the game as players hit their teens, though not exclusively. Even with all the competition for a kid’s time out there it’s encouraging seeing the game enduring and thriving,” said Mike Cornell, the tournament’s director. “We had kids from many neighboring counties and it’s encouraging to see the level of support that this club receives from the community.”
For young chess players the club fills many roles and teaches many lessons—-it tests the mind, it develops strategic thought and it is social.
“I’ve learned a lot from chess—I used to be terrible. I started playing at the age of six. The game really allows for a great deal of growth in many areas. I have played since the days when John Bossong founded the club. Mr. Bossong actually taught me how to play chess,” said Joseph Karstetter, the club’s current president and freshman at Eastern View High School. “The chess club has taught me many things and I have developed some great friendships over the years. There’s also leadership. I recently taught a class on chess etiquette.”
One of the most challenging elements to tournament play is the fact that most of the club’s members know each other’s game intimately.
A game of strategy
“Chess is a great game… sometimes you know the opponent, other times it’s a complete stranger so there are a number of strategies you have to employ,” said Karstetter. “Most of the older players here have played each other so many times that you can often recall what moves they’ll start with or use in certain situations.”
Each young player takes something different away from the experience of tournament play.
“I like the strategy and the checkmates,” said Grant Bush-Resko, a top-finisher and middle school player. “It’s a chance to play chess and spend time with my friends.”
A row of parents awaited the results while their sons or daughters tested their skills.
“I have five kids and three of them play chess—they are all here today. I enjoy how they get the opportunity to play against players from many age groups and levels of experience. Chess teaches them so many valuable lessons like how to win, lose or simply learn from both experiences. The club has been great for us as a family,” said Laura Bush-Resko, a mother of three players.
One of the tournament’s youngest players wore a Santa hat to add a bit of holiday cheer to the seriousness of tournament play. His eyes flickered across the chessboard as he pondered a move.
“I like playing chess, I learned to play when I was five years old,” said Wekin Gibson, 8, from Orange. “I like playing with my father at home. When I win it’s a great feeling and when I lose…I know that I need a new strategy or move. Does my hat help? We will see.”
The chess players are young athletes of the mind playing a game with origins that can be traced back thousands of years to India. This strategic game of pawns, rooks, knights and kings spread through Persian and Arabian civilizations over the centuries and became a game of European nobility.
Today, chess has managed to stay popular amid a tidal wave of electronic games. In recent years mankind has pitted its best chess masters in well-published battles with supercomputers. The human mind is a formidable opponent.
Originally formed in 2001, the club’s late founder John Bossong brought this popular program to area youth. For Bossong it was an easy evolution from a youth mentor to chess club founder. It was a true labor of love from the beginning until his untimely exit. Bossong saw the potential in a program that taught so many of life’s lessons on a simple game board.
Bossong was also instrumental in helping to save funding for Culpeper County’s Library during county budget cuts over the last decade. He had a strong passion for his community and he steadfastly believed in the power of chess to sharpen the mind. He liked to say, “The game can provide healthy competition and a positive social environment where cupcakes often follow checkmates.”
This fun-based formula was simple yet effective, young players met each Wednesday to play chess, socialize and create lasting friendships. The unexpected and sudden loss of Bossong to cancer left the club at an uncertain crossroads. Charity Karstetter, a local pediatric nurse and mother of two young players assembled a small group of club members to rescue a club they had grown to love.
“John was a great inspiration to our community—he had an uncanny ability to bring in kids—the outgoing ones and the shy ones. He brought in kids who never even considered playing the game of chess. It had a wonderful social component,” said Karstetter, now a co-leader of the club. “The lowest point was just after John’s death. There was great uncertainty. We dropped to about six players from numbers in the 30s. Fortunately we had a little group of kids from Farmington Elementary, a core group that really recharged the club. We have a few players who played when John ran the club—but over the years we’ve survived and grown largely through word of mouth. We currently have 150 kids on the database and average about 30 at a meeting. Since John’s passing, Louis Torres and I have slowly started to build the club up again.”
Bossong was named the Culpeper Times 2009 Citizen of the Year for his outstanding service to the community including his efforts with the Culpeper Chess Club.
“The tournament was a great success. Thank you to our volunteers, we couldn’t have done it without you. Our next tournament in house won’t be until April. But there is a January tournament for anyone interested,” added Karstetter. “Our club is also having an Annual Christmas Party for members and their families.”
Want to play?
The Culpeper Chess Club meets every Wednesday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the meeting room at the Culpeper County Library located at 271 Southgate Shopping Center. All ages and all skill levels welcome, even those who have never played. Come learn a new skill. Next meetings are Dec. 14, Dec. 21 and Dec. 28. For more information, contact Charity Karstetter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marshall Conner is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at email@example.com