Chess tournament 'checks' into Kenai

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002


Not a spectator's sport by any stretch of the imagination, chess is a game where even the opponent rarely has enough patience to stick around while his or her adversary takes a turn.

Nevertheless fans of the game make no bones about its competitive aspect.

"It is a sport. It really is. When you play a game, the adrenaline starts flowing," said George Lombardi, a Nikiski resident who organized a Kenai Peninsula U.S. Chess Federation tournament held Saturday and Sunday at the Merit Inn in Kenai.

"I love the game," Lombardi said. "I am an average player at best, but I just love the game. I love the competition. I love the camaraderie."

Lombardi has been playing competitive chess for 30 years, the better part of which was in his former home state of Colorado. For the past three years since he moved to Alaska, Lombardi has been forced to travel to Anchorage for any opportunity to try his talent against other chess fanatics.

Wanting to bring chess to peninsula residents, he decided to coordinate a tournament in Kenai. With the support of the Alaska Chess League, Lombardi said, he plans to make this an annual event.

"We had a rather small turnout," he said of the eight players who showed up for the two-day, five-round tournament. "But, I'm just trying to get chess started in Kenai."

Three of his players were accomplished players from Fairbanks and Anchorage. The other five, though, were all area residents -- adults and children -- with varying levels of ability and practice.

Three of the competitors from the central peninsula were youth new to the federation for this tournament.

"Kids are the lifeblood of chess. If you get them interested and keep them interested until they're my age, hopefully they'll go back to their schools and tell their friends about it," he said. "It's word of mouth. That's how it's going to spread and grow."

Dylan Tucker, 11, and Russell Moore, 15, may not be ready to shout the benefits of chess from the rooftops of Kenai, but they are both, at least personally, sold on the game.

"I like chess," said Tucker in a simple reason for why he participated in the tournament, followed by a longer explanation of how he got involved in the game.

"I hate my cousin for being better at me than stuff. She was playing chess and I didn't know what that was. She was taking lessons, so I joined in. Just knowing I can crush her is great."

Moore got interested in the game out of boredom.

"That's (how) I got pretty good," said the Kenai resident, who added more interest in chess on the peninsula would be a nice alternative to other ways teens choose to entertain themselves.

"That'd be pretty cool. A lot of people just run around an steal bikes and stuff. (Chess) is fun. It's like a very intellectual game. You think a lot."

Although the two boys were up against opponents with dozens of years more experience than they have, they were both excited to have had the opportunity to learn from the older men.

"The first person I played with was the best person here. He showed me what I did wrong so I can know what to do in that situation next time," said Tucker.

Moore agreed.

"We can learn a lot from playing the better players," he said.

A lot of improving at the game is playing often and with opponents of varying skills.

For those who really want to become masters of the game, dedication and time to read up on different plays and moves also are necessary.

"There are some kids, let's say Bobby Fischer, that are born with innate talent," Lombardi said.

But, for the rest of the world of chess players, practice may not make perfect but it can make a grand master, he said.

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