FORT WAYNE — During the pandemic, when people were stuck at home looking for ways to stay entertained, chess had a moment.
It didn’t hurt, either, that the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” was a huge hit at that time, bringing a fictionalized story of the rise of a female chess prodigy on the path to becoming world champion.
But now a Fort Wayne chess club is trying to take the experience of playing online into the real world, by hosting official US Chess Federation ranked tournaments in northeast Indiana.
For organizer Charles Vu, he played chess in his childhood, but never played in a real tournament. Like many people, he got back into chess recently during the pandemic and has shared the game with his two sons — both of whom are skilled intermediate level players already.
When they got interested in playing some in-person tournaments — what chess aficionados call playing “over the board” — there was nothing local.
By the time they’d travel, pay entry fees, hang out in some Indiana city for the day, the time and cost really piled up.
So, why not solve that and bring the game closer to home?
“There’s so many good players, players who really want to love chess and be more active on the tournament scene. Unfortunately there’s nothing within an hour and a half of Fort Wayne and so we wanted to organize tournaments that are accessible for all levels,” Vu said. “The cost of chess tournaments can be prohibitive for some players to participate in tournament chess. So one aspect, one benefit of this is to lower the barrier of entry for players, so that all players, no matter what their playing strength, can participate.”
Via the Three Rivers Chess Club, Vu launched his first tournament over the Memorial Day weekend, renting out the pavilion at Lions Park a little south of the Coliseum Boulevard area near Purdue Fort Wayne and Ivy Tech, and hosted the local tourney.
Unlike many other tournaments, Vu does not charge an entry fee. Since the tournaments are officially rated via the US Chess Federation, players do have to have an active membership with the organization, but that’s an annual fee of $20 for kids or $45 for adults.
In the more recent July 9 tournament, the event had already caught more attention, pulling in 24 players in total — eight in an advanced section and 16 players in a lower-rated field.
The crowd it drew ranged from elementary school kids with beginner skillsets, to sharp-playing youngsters, experienced teens and adults, and even Indiana’s 15th highest-ranked overall player.
“I think nothing can replace being across the board from another player, the intense focus like you see in the shows. You don’t see that online,” Vu said.
That mix of young and old, beginner and expert, is a good experience to meet other players, network, learn and have some fun. Vu’s goal is to make it as accessible as possible and, potentially, draw players from all over northeast Indiana and even beyond.
“It’s open to everyone and anyone. It’s great that we’re having very strong players in Fort Wayne as well as outside coming to these tournaments,” he said.
Vu said his goal is to host tournaments monthly as long as there’s interest and people keep showing up. For now, Lions Park is the site of choice, but events might move to a Fort Wayne library branch once the weather turns colder, he said.
Those interested in learning more or keeping an eye out for the next event can follow on Facebook at facebook.com/threeriverschess.
(Editor’s Note: The reporter for this story is a US Chess Federation member and has played in both Three Rivers Chess Club tournaments.)