Chessmen masters of the move

January 25, 1998

Chessmen masters of the move


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As the games began Thursday night in the home economics room at Cumberland Valley Christian High School, a concentrated silence fell over the 20 players as they tried to outthink, outscheme and outmaneuver their opponents.

Their eyes rarely strayed from the checkered boards that were their battlegrounds as they planned their next moves under the constraints of a ticking clock that could mean victory or a crushing defeat.

The players call themselves the Chambersburg Chessmen, a newly formed club of men and women, ranging in ages from senior citizens to fifth-graders, who have embarked on revitalizing the centuries-old game of chess in the area.


"The state chess championship was once played at CASHS (Chambersburg Area Senior High School) ... So I knew there was interest out there," said club co-founder Joseph Hall.

A teacher at the Christian school and an avid chess player, Hall started a chess club for his students last year and had plans of expanding it.

Late last year, he met with Fayetteville, Pa., resident Gary Shoop, who had posted handmade signs on light poles in Chambersburg looking for chess players interested in forming a club.

"I was looking for people to play against," Shoop said, who learned the game from his sister when he was 12.

An affiliate of the United States Chess Federation, the Chambersburg Chessmen club has since grown to about 25 members of all abilities who meet from 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday at the Christian high school at 600 Miller St. in Chambersburg.

From 7 to 7:30 p.m., Hall teaches free chess lessons.

"Chess is just solving a puzzle ... All you need to know is how the pieces move. If you know how the pieces move, then you can play chess. The more you play, the more you learn," Hall said.

The game can be a humbling experience to seasoned chess players, as Hall found out Thursday night during an intense game against Jarrett Bywaters, 17, of Waynesboro, Pa.

"Remind me again why I play this game," Hall said, after losing to the high school student. "I didn't lose, I got crushed."

Hall taught his son, Jed, 15, who is now ranked the best chess player in the high school. He admits his son beats him at the game.

"Age has nothing to do with it. It's simply problem-solving. There are some second-graders I wouldn't want to play," Hall said.

A member of the Waynesboro Area Senior High School chess team, Bywaters joined the Chambersburg club after seeing one of Shoop's fliers.

"I wanted to play more and challenge myself more with new people," he said.

Nancy Geiger, 12, a seventh-grade student at the Christian school and one of three females in the club, showed up Thursday for the first time.

"I've read a whole bunch about chess and it seemed interesting. I've always wanted to learn," Geiger said, adding that her goal is to eventually beat Hall, her teacher.

Fifth-grade students and good friends, J.C. Phillippy, 11, and Benjamin John, 11, faced each other across the checkered board on their first night of chess club.

"The main reason I do this is just to have fun," Phillippy said.

"It's really something to do ... It's a little complicated at first, but it does help your math and language skills," said John.

"Yeah, you have to think on it and know how many moves you make," added Phillippy.

To get really good at the game, Hall suggests reading some chess books, which give readers advice on strategy, tactical moves, different attack maneuvers and other information.

"After you make the first move, there are one million possible moves to make," Hall said.

"It's a game of wits. It can be nerve-racking," Shoop said.

Anyone interested in joining the club can show up at the school on Thursday nights. The cost of a yearly membership is $3 for students and senior citizens and $6 for adults.

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