"Chess, a game that has been around for almost 1,500 years, is seeing a rapid resurgence, often referred to as the New Chess Boom," notes an article in the Michigan Journal of Economics.
This emerging trend is nowhere more evident than at Windsor Run, an Erickson Senior Living community in Matthews, N.C., which recently celebrated the first anniversary of its popular resident-run chess club.
The club originally stemmed from a dinner conversation between two residents: Richard Baer and Naim Ahmed.
Strategizing next moves
"During dinner one night, Naim, who had recently moved to Windsor Run, mentioned that he would like to learn how to play chess," recalls Richard. "My response was that I haven't played in 50 years, but I could probably watch a couple of YouTube videos and figure it out."
In the weeks that followed, Richard began teaching and playing chess with Naim. From there, the idea formed that some of their neighbors might enjoy playing a game of chess too.
Richard reached out to Becky Dinello, Windsor Run's resident services coordinator, about starting a chess club. From these discussions, he learned that his neighbor, Tom Lucas, was a tournament-qualified chess player.
"When I approached Tom about the club, he was very enthusiastic," says Richard. "He jumped right in! With Becky's help, we began making plans for the club. Tom has really been the glue of our group."
Down to business
Over the course of its first year, the club steadily welcomed new members, many of whom either never played or haven't played since their college years.
The chess club meets every Thursday afternoon for a couple of hours, but members also meet regularly throughout the week for competitions.
"Our club is open to everyone, no matter the experience or skill level," says Richard. "We are a wonderful, diverse group of people that believe in helping each other improve." However, he notes with a laugh, "We also enjoy competing like warriors against each other!"
Club member Ken Rasheff, who had not played a game of chess in 35 years before joining the group, now offers tutoring sessions. These one-on-one sessions benefit both beginners and experienced players. He also hosts a group tutoring session at noon on Thursdays.
"Ken is a very valuable member of our club," says Richard. "Not only does he recruit new members, but he also tutors them, which helps novice players feel comfortable competing. When I asked how much he charges for the lessons, Ken replied, 'You can't pay me for teaching something I love to teach.'"
There are currently 16 residents in the club, and Richard credits the camaraderie and helpful nature of the members for the group's growing popularity.
"Our club is very unique," he says. "Many times during our competitive chess matches, an opponent will point out a missed opportunity or a better move that you could've taken. It becomes one big teaching lesson. While we're battling, we still pull for each other to improve our chess skills."
Chess isn't just a fun hobby--it's also been shown to improve brain health. According to the Science Times, the health benefits of playing chess include strengthening memory, promoting creativity, preventing memory loss, and stimulating brain growth.
Richard has witnessed these benefits firsthand.
"I think our club is growing because of two reasons. One, players enjoy friendly competition, and two, it's a fun way to keep the brain stimulated," he says. "The more you play, the more you improve your game."
He also appreciates the satisfaction and personal growth associated with learning and improving your skills in this strategic, challenging game.
"When you make a really great move on the chess board, you feel like a young grand chess master," says Richard. "It's energizing, to think three moves ahead. But that's what chess is! To me, chess is more than a game--it's become an extension of my personality."
As the club embarks on its second year, Richard hopes to increase membership, hosting as many as seven or eight games every Thursday afternoon. "I am proud of how successful the chess club is," he says, "but I would like more residents to participate. It's a great place to hang out for a couple of hours, while challenging yourself and your opponent."
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