Mark Hamel wants to unite Sarasota’s chess community, but first he needs to find it a home.
Mark Hamel had a lot of moving pieces to maneuver on Saturday — figuratively and literally.
More than 80 spectators and players gathered at Fruitville Public Library on Oct. 14 to recognize National Chess Day and participate in what Hamel hopes is the first of many tournaments.
“What we’re trying to do is use this event to find a venue for Sundays where we could have a regular chess club,” Hamel said. “Then we could have tournaments and instruction and lessons and special events.”
It’s not that Sarasota doesn’t have an active chess community. Hamel volunteers weekly at Pine View School offering chess lessons and coaching. The school also has a youth group that sponsors three tournaments a year.
But Hamel doesn’t see much cohesion between fledgling chess students, like those at Pine View, and Sarasota’s older
cadre of chess enthusiasts.
“They just get together and play at libraries on Saturdays,” he said.
So Hamel organized a tournament with something for everyone. On the far wall, a line of seasoned chess players made their moves with precision, marking time on a clock as they went. On the other side of the room, things were a little less precise. Children tested their developing skills against their peers.
Ethan Song sat on the end of the table of young competitors, focused on his match. But not too focused. He is only 8, after all. Yet, he’s no stranger to the complicated maneuverings of a chess board. He learned how to play the game when he was 6 during a summer camp and has been playing with his brother since.
“Usually I win,” he said, which is good. Winning is his favorite part of the game. It’s a preference that reflects in his favorite piece.
“The king is my favorite,” Song said, “because without him you will never win again.”
There was a slight pause in play while Hamel organized the next round. In the middle of the room, however, play never ceased.
Four tables were arranged a in square with 16 competitors seated along its exterior, all playing the same opponent. Hans Schut stood in the center, stopping a few seconds at each board before making his move and moving to the next match.
Despite the handicap, Schut managed to defeat each of his 16 opponents — a result that didn’t come as a surprise to Hamel.
“Hans Schut is in the top 1% of all players in the country that play chess,” he said.
The afternoon was a highlight in Hamel’s search for a permanent home for Sarasota’s chess community.
He said there is interest in creating a unified organization, which Hamel plans on calling the Chess Club of Sarasota/Manatee County. However, he is still looking for officers, board members and, most importantly, a venue.
“There are different pockets, and the only organizing is the people who play in the libraries,” he said. “So what we are trying to get is a regular place we can play and sponsor these events.”
It’s a reality Hamel hopes to bring to fruition by the end of this year. He believes chess deserves a home in Sarasota.
“They have done studies that people who play chess, that are retired, it really helps hold back the Alzheimer’s,” he said. “For young children, there have been students that have shown positive effects on reasoning, problem solving skills … It’s just a great activity.”