Chess in the City

Look what’s taking the world — and Greensboro — by silent, calculated storm


Though The Queen’s Gambit suggests historical drama, the Netflix miniseries is a Walter Tevis title. The subject? Chess.   

Tevis built a taut masterpiece around chess, just as he did with pool in The Hustler and The Color of Money.

When comedienne Ellen DeGeneres recently greeted Gambit’s star, Anya Taylor-Joy, she admitted she knew nothing about chess.

Is smart back in vogue?

Within weeks of Gambit’s late October release, chess sets began selling out in Greensboro. By December, The New York Times published make-your-own chess set tutorials — in paper for beginners, cardboard for intermediate players and origami for advanced players. 

Chess aficionado Scott McInnis, who began playing at age 3, founded the Greensboro Chess Club in 2013. Chess is his first and last daily thought, he admits, but he stepped down as president in 2017 when his first child, Elijah, was born. Of course, Elijah is learning the game. His name, and his infant sister, Eleanor’s name, both contain chess references. (Brian Miller is the current club president.)

Greensboro Chess Club members may not excel at origami, but they do know the board’s 64 squares. Pre-COVID, they met on Wednesdays at the Lewis Recreation Center. Now they meet online ( Ages 4–104 are welcome, says McInnis. And although the game is male dominated, he expressed his excitement that The Queen’s Gambit stars a woman.

Greensboro player Mac Moss began learning chess at age 8.  “Now I’m 72 and still making progress,” he shares, adding that he also enjoys playing internationally with the Internet Chess Club.

Though Moss took exception to drugging and chatting during a tournament in The Queen’s Gambit, he says it was excellent.

“One of the most interesting things about chess is that it is about combat, beauty and science. Each player tends to be more attracted to one of those elements; in my case, it’s the beauty.”

From his home in Germany, former Greensboro resident Peter Braun emails about how he bought one of the first computerized chess boards as a college student and tried to beat the program. He managed, but only at the lower levels. Only a Grandmaster could beat it, he says.

“When I was staying in Greensboro,” he adds, “I saw the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer on HBO . . . He was a cool American hero during the Cold War.”

McInnis has personally rubbed elbows with some high-level Grandmasters. “The vast, vast majority [of chess players] are overachievers, nerds. But they are bound for engineering, law school, et cetera.”  He recommends the website, and also “dinosaur chess.” 

“Chess is not just a game,” he says. “It is the fusion of science, math, art and competition.”

And it sure is beautiful.  OH

– Cynthia Adams

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