2018-12-27 / Front Page

Chess Club Draw Players Young and Old

By James Merolla


Dave Beadley, left, who never played chess before, is being taught rudiments of the game by senior instructor Gordon Manning. (Photo courtesy of Aquidneck Island Chess Club) Dave Beadley, left, who never played chess before, is being taught rudiments of the game by senior instructor Gordon Manning. (Photo courtesy of Aquidneck Island Chess Club) Harry Jasinski eyes the 15 chess boards set up on tables at the Middletown Public Library and chooses which opponent to face. Jasinski has the game, the temperament and the stare of a Grand Master in waiting. He is 9 years old.

“I like how the game is played,” he says.

He plays very well, defeating adults on a regular basis.

His father, David, taught Harry the game in kindergarten. Harry recently gave a quick lesson to James Holloman, advisor and sponsor of the newly-formed Aquidneck Island Chess Club, which started in November and already has 35 children and adult members. The club meets weekly on Tuesdays at 4:30 p.m.

Holloman, who moved here recently from Tampa, Florida to recruit engineers to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and began his own chess gaming company in his spare time, started the club with his wife, Julia, and their two children.


Jim Katin and Harry Jasinski faced off at the Middletown Public Library’s Aquidneck Island Chess Club. (Photo courtesy of Aquidneck Island Chess Club) Jim Katin and Harry Jasinski faced off at the Middletown Public Library’s Aquidneck Island Chess Club. (Photo courtesy of Aquidneck Island Chess Club) Holloman said he is “honestly surprised” by the proliferation of the club, along with the success of the Newport Public Library Chess Club, which met for the first time on Dec. 13, and the Gaudet Middle School Club, which started seasonal rounds on Dec. 10.

“There was nowhere to play in November, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll start a club,’” he said. “So, 26 kids showed up at the first meeting and now we have more than 30.”

It didn’t take much to nudge the pawns forward. There was a post at the library, a few more on social media and an introductory conversation on local NPR Radio.

Holloman’s Knights Den Games Company donated all the boards and pieces. All skill levels are welcome. And there certainly is a wide range of players.

Take 6-year-old Emmett Claire and his 4-year-old brother, Van, from Portsmouth. Emmett aspires to be like Jasinski. And then there is an adult, David Beadley, who never played before, and has been shown the rudiments of the game by senior instructor Gordon Manning.

“The youngest member is 4. The oldest member does not want to disclose his age,” said Holloman. “They come in, they just start playing. Two boys sit down. They introduce themselves and shake hands. Start there. Sportsmanship.

“I’m shocked at how it kind of runs itself. Someone who doesn’t know anything, someone who knows slightly more than they do will teach them, and then, someone who knows something more than that will teach them,” he added. “If anybody looks for us, they are going to find us.”

Rhode Island has only 130 registered U.S. Chess Federation members, but Holloman’s club alone could add 25 to that list.

The Newport Public Library Chess Club will play on the second and fourth Thursday each month. Sean Doherty, reference librarian at the library, moved to Rhode Island in May and started the club.

“I was in the process of making the club, then I saw an article about [the Aquidneck Island Chess Club]. We are not rivals,” he said.

Holloman said they are partners. “We can all be one organization now, at various meeting places,” he said.

All school and independent clubs will have links at the knightsdengames.com website.

“I have set up a chess board on the reference desk, white to move, black to move, patrons walk by and make a move,” said Doherty. “I’ll do a move. They may stay for more than one move. I have a sign that says, ‘Check,’ to show if the board is in check.”

Parents, many of whom play, are thrilled. Marielle Claire of Portsmouth, mother of Emmett and Van, is a kindergarten teacher. “I think it’s great,” she said. “The first week here, I saw one of my students here. That’s cool.”

Ben Katin, just a hair older than Emmett and Van, plays boys his age while his father, Jim, takes on savant Jasinski. “Ben and I would play a little bit and his grandfather likes to play,” said Katin. “I wasn’t sure how Ben was going to take to it. But he jumped up and said, ‘We are going to chess club tomorrow, right?’”

There isn’t an iPhone or video game in sight.

“They are unplugged, disconnected,” said Holloman. “It’s relatively quiet for a social endeavor. The easy answer for its success so far is that they are still developing. This is analytical thinking that they don’t get staring at a video game and the social aspect, sitting next to their friends.”

Holloman has greater ambitions. On Jan. 8, lessons will be taught in the first hour with simulated games shown on TV, in addition to group lessons and basic strategies.

“I reached out to three directors of senior citizens centers in Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth, looking to do senior programs as well. I’m also an advocate of chess in prisons,” he said.

Next spring, he plans to set up tables at Bowen’s Wharf and Brick Market Place, and other parks, to let people play. Recalling the glory days of newspapers, he hopes his young members will pen a weekly chess column with board scenarios like publications did in their heyday.

“We want a club in every school on the island,” he said.

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