Columbia has become a battleground for kings and queens. That is, a battleground for a thriving chess community.
Players engage in chess combat with one another in order to increase their ratings, win tournaments, earn money and have fun. This is the story of five Columbia chess players.
A math teacher at an American school in Paris taught Charles Ward how to play chess in 1968. Now 65 and retired, Ward stays active in Columbia’s chess community by both playing in and organizing tournaments. He is an average player with a 1465 rating, and he likes chess because it is a game of skill.
“Chess is a great activity because it teaches self-discipline, creativity and responsibility. If you make a bad move, it’s your fault, you screwed up, and nobody else can be blamed. It also teaches problem-solving,” Ward said.
Ward, who describes himself as a moderately aggressive player, owns about 20 chess books and reads Chess Life magazine, but he doesn’t study the game as thoroughly as he could.
His favorite player is Bobby Fischer.
“Bobby Fischer played the most beautiful chess of any player I’ve ever played through the moves for,” Ward said. “He’s a real weirdo, but his chess games are just unbelievably beautiful. The logic of them is so compelling. It’s hard to explain. It’s like listening to a Mozart symphony, or something like that. There’s a beauty to them that’s intrinsically there.”
Ward said playing chess often is important because pattern recognition is a necessary skill that develops over time. He said chess is a great source of enjoyment.
“When you make a good move, it’s a real buzz,” he said.
Sharing a name with the most important chess piece, King Christian seems to have been destined to succeed in chess. Christian, a 43-year-old teacher, learned the game from his father about 30 years ago.
Christian has a 2047 rating, making him an expert. He owns 200 chess books and enjoys playing the game because it is a “fun way to get away from things.” He describes himself as a positional player because he focuses more on defense than aggressive tactics.
“You need a good memory and a really strong will, and you have to study,” Christian said.
He studies chess openings, games between grandmasters and his past games. “I would like to get over 2200 again,” said Christian. He is on track after winning a tournament in Nebraska last year.
Christian’s favorite chess player is Bobby Fischer. “He is crazy, but as far as chess goes, he was the best that there ever was,” he said.
Christian said he tries to be calm during chess tournaments. “It really helps to have your emotions under control, but it’s easier said than done,” he said. “I get really mad sometimes. I hate to say that. That’s a really bad fault that I have because I take it too seriously a lot of times.”