- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - The sounds of mental combat waged on a 64-square battlefield are common Tuesday nights at Abington Community Library.

Observations are shared.

“Those bishops are certainly nasty there.”

“They most certainly are.”

Opening strategies are discussed. Some are named after people, others for areas of origin: The French. The Pirc. The Sicilian. Even the Two Knights Defense Wilkes-Barre Variation.

Hands guide pieces and pawns on the field of battle, then press the stop button on a clock.

These are the sounds of the Abington Chess Club of Greater Scranton.

The informal group of chess players have been meeting at the library for about 1½ years. Bruce Wisenburn, Ph.D, a professor at Marywood University, started the club after realizing there weren’t any others in the area outside of schools.

At first it was just he and another player pushing pieces over a lone board. A few times, he was alone and used the time to read chess books.

Like a chess-themed Field of Dreams, others started to come.

The club hosted a match against the Stroudsburg Chess Club at the library on April 14. The home squad ultimately lost 15 games to three, but fielded nine players.

Now, the club draws players of all skill levels, beginners to those with tournament experience, and all ages, including 86-year-old Paul Andrade and 15-year-old Richard Fried.

Checkmates

Andrade learned the game from his grandfather as a boy in Queens, New York and has played for most of his life in various states where he lived.

He dropped out of high school at age 16 because of a speech impediment that left him embarrassed and frustrated. He eventually earned a high school diploma when he was 21.

After a stint in the Army, Andrade married and ended up in New Hampshire, where he worked as an ice cream truck driver.

He played chess all the while.

“It led to me eventually getting a halfway decent job,” Andrade said.

At a chess club in New Hampshire, another player who worked at IBM suggested he apply for a job with the computer company.

After some hesitation, he eventually applied and took an IQ test. The company was interested but another test awaited, one on electronics and mechanics knowledge. Company representatives suggested he take some college classes to get the training he needed to pass the second exam.

Instead, Andrade schooled himself for six months. Another chess-playing friend told him what books to read.

He passed the test and became an IBM technician. In time, he was promoted to a programmer, and eventually retired from the company.

After retirement, he devoted more time to studying chess and steadily improved. In 1986, he won the New Hampshire State Senior Championship. He still has the silver engraved cup.

Eventually he earned an expert rating from the U.S. Chess Federation, the official governing body for chess players and competition in the U.S.

Even after all these years, the game is still appealing, he said. He likes the competition and the distraction it provides from life’s ups and downs, citing his stammer, knee injury and a bout with cancer.

“When I’m playing a game or when I’m studying something, I can get so absorbed in it that I can shut out the rest of the world,” Andrade said. “And frankly, life is never perfect 100 percent, no matter who you are.”

Hooked on chess

Richard, an Abington Heights High School freshman, sat two boards to the right of Andrade at the match against Stroudsburg a few weeks ago. He stared intently at the pieces in front of him and deftly maneuvered rooks and bishops along the ranks and files before him.

Less than a year ago, Richard didn’t know how to move those pieces. He never had much interest in playing or knew much about the game until last year when he saw some students playing at his school.

Intrigued, he started coming to the club and got hooked.

He “bombed” his first game after learning to play, Richard recalled, but became a student of the game, reading books and reviewing games after play. He diligently logs moves in a spiral-bound notebook as he plays and reviews them later.

He loves the fairness of the game.

“When you win, it’s not based on luck,” he said. “It’s based on outsmarting the other player. It’s based on which person is thinking better than the other person at the moment.”

His hard work is paying off, Andrade and Dr. Wisenburn said.

“He’s advanced as quickly as anyone I’ve seen play,” said Andrade, who squares off against Richard occasionally at the weekly meetings. “He’s a quick study.”

Dr. Wisenburn said there are plans to have the Abington Chess Club of Greater Scranton become a United States Chess Federation affiliate, joining about 45 other such clubs in Pennsylvania. There are no federation-affiliate clubs in Lackawanna County, according to the federation website.

In the meantime, the club continues to meet Tuesdays, ready to play, and hopefully draw more players.

“We certainly welcome chess players of any skill level or even those who want to learn to play chess,” Dr. Wisenburn said. “If there are some very good chess players in the area, I bet we could give them a good game.”

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Sidebar

A local move

The Wilkes-Barre Variation of the Two Knights Defense is called the Traxler Variation in the rest of the world, named after Czech chess master Karel Traxler, the first person known to play the variation in the late 1800s.

Wilkes-Barre became associated with the position when a player, John Menovsky, published a piece in a chess publication re-examining the soundness of the moves years later.

“The Variation, based on said move, was introduced by me here in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, over fifteen years ago. Since then, it has been gradually finding favor in games over the board, and especially by correspondence,” Menovsky wrote in a 1934 issue of Chess Review magazine.

The position is not commonly used today, especially at higher levels of play, though the line may be used occasionally at the club and amateur levels, said Joshua Anderson, president of the Chess Journalists of America. A search of a chess database of 2.5 million games yielded only 400 games that opened with the Wilkes-Barre variation and only five of those played between two chess grandmasters, the world’s premier players, Mr. Anderson said.

“It’s a fun opening from a bygone era of chess,” Mr. Anderson said.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1VG7Q0r

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Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/

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