Sky Robinson, an Oxford High School student, traced her potential moves on the chess board in front of her Saturday morning.
“I started playing about a month ago because of him,” Robinson said nodding toward her opponent and classmate, Dustin Chumley.
Both Robinson and Chumley were among the youngest of about 10 players from the Anniston Chess Club, who gathered at The Catalyst, a gallery in downtown Anniston, Saturday morning.
Chess gatherings across the county have been few and far between in recent years, but players said Saturday that they feel they’re making a comeback.
Steve Morey, an English teacher at Oxford High and the chess club sponsor for the school, said on Saturday that groups like the Anniston Chess Cub are instrumental in finding players in the area.
“I feel like chess has always been here,” Morey said. “But it’s drawing those players out of the woodwork and bringing them together that creates a chess presence.”
Narada Culpepper said Saturday that he had no idea there were so many people in Anniston that played chess. Culpepper started the club nearly a year ago and attendance has grown tremendously, he said.
“It varies from week to week but on several occasions we’ve had close to 20 people playing,” he said. “People from all background and ages.”
While Robinson and Chumley made up some of the younger players Saturday, Gene Grace and Aladdin Lateef made up some of the more experienced players. Grace played in the Anniston Chess Club back in the 70s and 80s, which met in the garden room of the Downtowner Inn on Quintard Avenue. Lateef said he’d been playing for 50 years.
On Saturday, Grace took several minutes to make his moves against Lateef, carefully charting each one on a notepad. Lateef, in between moves, supervised the matches between the younger crowd.
“Move this here,” Lateef said pointing to one of Robinson’s pawns.
“I thought you were supposed to be my friend,” Chumley said to Lateef about the move against him. “I’m starting to question this friendship.”
Chumley, 16, will compete next week in a tournament hosted by Oxford High School.
“At my first tournament I didn’t win a single game,” he said. “Actually, my first couple tournaments I didn’t win any. I was 6.”
Morey said the chess team at Oxford High School has about 20 members with about a dozen of those who are competitive.
“Some teachers have said we’ve hosted a tournament before but I’ve been there for 13 years and we haven’t had one since I started so we’re calling it the inaugural tournament,” Morey said.
While Morey said he expects to see students from Talladega and Pell City at the tournament, he hopes to see more from around the county.
“It is open to all students kindergarten through 12th grade,” Morey said. “Public, private and homeschool. Students do not have to be part of a team to play.”
While Morey said he was unsure how turnout will be for the tournament, he hopes to inspire more students to start playing.
“Chess teaches critical thinking and encourages players to think several moves ahead,” Morey said. “Each player is presented with a dilemma and they have to figure out what the solutions are. As a teacher, these are valuable characteristics we hope our students can learn.”