When Jaylan Homan plays chess, she isn’t satisfied with just any move, a pawn here or a knight there.
“I want to have a good, good move,” Jaylan said.
Strategy includes thinking at least two moves ahead, and knowing which way the opponent could go.
As a member of the Winchester Chess Club, and a former Trapp Elementary School chess player, that kind of thinking is becoming second nature to the 11-year-old.
Kids as young as 6-year-old Barbara Sheehan are honing their chess skills at monthly free chess club sessions with adult mentors like chess club founding member Frank Walls and Winchester-Clark County Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Lewis. Players of all ages and skill levels come to the College Park Library for the sessions for various reasons, some having no other opportunity to play and others trying to test themselves against better players.
“I’m kind of average in our club,” Walls said of his chess skills.
The club was formed in 2005 with a small group meeting in an upstairs room at the College Park Gym. Former Parks and Recreation employee Jim Snapp created the club, and chess afficionado Walls came on to help the fledgling group. The Winchester club started with 4-5 members, but has grown to include as many as 20 players per session.
“Volunteers play with the kids to help them improve. Some of the kids, their parents will play too,” Walls said.
The club is affiliated with the United States Chess Federation and several members are rated with the Federation as well. A player’s rating is determined by their performance in games against other rated players.
“We support them because it’s a good thing,” Lewis said of Parks and Recreation’s involvement with the club.
Lewis learned to play chess as a child through a friend with muscular dystrophy. Although Lewis was an avid athlete, he wanted an activity that he and his friend could do together, and he came to love the game.
Because chess requires so much mental energy, club members are quick to point out all sorts of benefits, including improved concentration and critical thinking skills.
The club also recently received a boost from former Winchester resident Darryl Davis. Now residing in Sacramento, Calif., Davis returned home to Winchester for a visit in May and discovered the work Walls was doing to promote chess in the community. As a 10-year member of a chess club in Sacramento, Davis has helped implement chess programs in jails, and he thinks Winchester could benefit from similar programs. As Davis explains it, his participation has largely been getting more minorities involved, and others who wouldn’t normally think of playing chess.
“I had an interest in how Winchester was prospering in chess,” Davis said.
Throughout the year, club members are invited to participate in tournaments sponsored by the
Winchester Scholastic Chess League, organized by former Conkwright Middle School chess coaches Marty Stevens and Marcus Barnett. Tournaments are open to individuals and teams from any school. Chess club volunteers continue to run the league, which awards trophies to winners at the end of the school year based on points accumulated at all tournaments.
Students from throughout the state have participated in the Scholastic League tournaments, with as many as nine teams represented. Winchester will host the Bluegrass State Games chess tournament this year, for the second year in a row.
The games will be July 14, and the public is invited to watch.
“That’s really a neat event for us,” Lewis said.
Currently, the club is focusing on recruiting new members, and creating public interest in chess.
“Once they get involved, they’re gonna start to like it,” Davis said.
Club meetings are the first and third Monday of every month at 6 p.m. Even those who do not know how to play chess, but are interested in learning, are invited. All chess sessions are free.
“Chess is going to help you 10 times more than any sport. It teaches you patience and respect,” Lewis said.
For more information on the Winchester Chess Club, visit www.winChesster.com.