Take it Outside: Fresh Air Chess Around the World

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The Katowice Market Square in Poland features outdoor chess tournaments throughout the summer. (photo credit Olga Krzyzykk)
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The Katowice Market Square in Poland features outdoor chess tournaments throughout the summer. (photo credit Olga Krzyzykk)

Playing chess outdoors is a centuries-old tradition with a 21st century internet presence. In the sixteenth century, Ruy López de Segura advised, “place the board so that the sun is in your opponent’s eyes.” Most outdoor games are casual and played quickly, however tournaments also happen outdoors, both abroad and in the U.S.   

In this two-part series about outdoor chess tables, WIM Alexey Root first looks at international outdoor chess and interviews Jeffrey Vollmer, who organizes US Chess-rated outdoor tournaments in St. Louis. In part two, Root describes outdoor US Chess-rated tournaments in Fremont, California; Chicago, and New York City.    

Outdoors, Around the World  

In November 2018, Canadian Hans Jung started the Outdoor Chess Tables group on Facebook, beginning with 150 members and growing steadily through COVID-19 lockdowns to where it is currently over 660 members. Long before he established the group, Jung facilitated outdoor chess tables at Kitchener City Hall in Ontario, Canada. Jung noted, “Tables are dormant after the weather goes below 50 Fahrenheit.”   

 

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Hans Jung at the Chess Pocket Park in Old North St. Louis.
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Hans Jung at the Chess Pocket Park in Old North St. Louis.

Another advocate for outdoor chess tables, Jesús Medina Molina, is also based outside the US. His website states, “Many Dutch municipalities have placed public chess tables in the open space.” In Vienna, Austria, Kineke Mulder has been offering chess outdoors since 2015 by setting up tables at the Human Rights Square. People of all backgrounds, many who do not speak the same languages, congregate to play chess outdoors. To learn more about Mulder’s Chess Unlimited initiative, visit her website.  

While Jung, Molina, and Mulder facilitate casual chess playing outdoors, there are also organized outdoor tournaments abroad. Mokate, a Polish company, sponsored an outdoor tournament in August of 2020, where many titled players participated at the market square in Ustroń. The Mokate tournament was won by Grandmaster Jan-Krzysztof Duda who, less than two months later, went on to defeat World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen at Norway Chess. Duda’s win ended Carlsen’s undefeated streak in classical chess.   

FIDE Vice President Łukasz Turlej adds, “In Katowice, Poland, 1-2 weekends during each summer, we have five giant chess sets and outdoor chess tournaments for 30-40 players. Everything is being played at the Katowice market square.”  

Treme Chess Club  

The Treme (pronounced trem-MAY) Chess Club is a US Chess affiliate, named after a neighborhood in New Orleans. Before the pandemic, Jeffrey Vollmer and others built outdoor chess tables in New Orleans, used for both casual and rated chess. Vollmer also ran outdoor tournaments in Wisconsin, including at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Manitowoc. Vollmer loves outdoor chess, saying “Chess kinda loses people when we are in stodgy tournament halls the whole time.”  

When Vollmer moved to the Old North St. Louis neighborhood in the summer of 2016, the Treme Chess Club affiliate also began serving the Old North St. Louis Chess Club. On Saturdays, at the Chess Pocket Park in Old North St. Louis, Vollmer runs rated G/40 tournaments. The nearby Old North Provisions Grocery Store, owned by a chess player, has tables inside and is where the tournament moves when the weather falls below 50 degrees.   

 

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Players met for an outdoor US Chess rated event in Chess Pocket Park on Halloween this year.
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Players met for an outdoor US Chess rated event in Chess Pocket Park on Halloween this year.

“Before the pandemic, the Saturday tournaments would attract 8-10 players in a good week,” Vollmer said. “Now there are 10-15 players consistently. A little more than half take notation. But others don’t know how to keep score, including a couple of homeless players whose US Chess memberships I have fronted for years.”  

Vollmer plans to form a 501c3 soon, to get more people in Old North St. Louis playing chess. “We are north of the Delmar Divide. There is a reluctance for people to come to our tournaments because of that stigma. But once they do come, I’ve found that suburban players and neighborhood locals become good friends. I live north of the Delmar Divide, walking distance to the park where the Saturday tournaments are held.”  

On Thursdays, when the weather is above 50 degrees, Vollmer runs unrated outdoor tournaments that feature “live music while we are playing” at Hemingway’s Zen Garden, a restaurant and bar in O’Fallon, Illinois. Vollmer temperature checks each player before each tournament starts. Players wash their hands in between rounds. Masks are up to each player.   

 

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An outdoor game at the Treme Chess Club in Old North St. Louis in early October.
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An outdoor game at the Treme Chess Club in Old North St. Louis in early October.

Vollmer provided this win over NM Jim Davies, played outdoors at the Chess Pocket Park in Old North St. Louis on Sept. 26.  

[pgn][Event "Remembering Meiji"] [Site "?"] [Date "2020.09.26"] [Round "?"] [White "Jeffrey Vollmer"] [Black "NM Jim Davies"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A04"] [Annotator "Jeff"] [PlyCount "53"] {[%evp 0,53,19,29,40,19,68,57,58,56,62,12,24,21,50,13,18,27,23,14,19,-2,3,0,26, 13,38,44,59,58,76,40,42,50,102,30,33,24,100,111,99,19,100,93,134,126,121,52,46, 25,424,423,423,426,426,426]} 1. Nf3 e6 2. g3 f5 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. O-O Be7 5. b3 O-O 6. Bb2 c5 7. d3 Nc6 8. Nbd2 d6 9. e4 e5 10. exf5 Bxf5 11. Nc4 Bg4 12. Ne3 Qd7 13. Nxg4 Qxg4 14. Nd2 Qd7 15. Ne4 Rac8 16. f4 d5 17. Nxf6+ Bxf6 18. fxe5 Bxe5 19. Bxe5 Nxe5 20. Qd2 Rcd8 21. Rxf8+ Kxf8 22. Rf1+ Kg8 23. Qf2 b6 24. Qf5 Re8 25. Qxd7 Nxd7 26. Bxd5+ Kh8 27. Bc6 1-0 [/pgn]
    

Check back on CLO soon for Part 2 of WIM Root’s series on outdoor chess.  

Comments

Wonderful article; thank you Alexey! I've been wanting to play in the outdoor tournament in St. Louis, but I just haven't made the time yet to do so. I certainly looks like a unique experience!

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