The University Club of Winter Park’s Chess Mates club meets every first and third Friday.
John Perry admits he isn’t very good at chess. But that doesn’t stop him from playing — he has too much fun.
“I find that chess, like any kind of game, is beneficial for keeping your mind sharp,” Perry said. “The reason that chess has survived for so many centuries is because of it’s complexity. It’s not something you can sit down and immediately be good at, and I think there’s a challenge in that.”
For the past two years, Perry has been playing with the ChessMates, the University Club of Winter Park’s own chess club. The group, typically comprising six to eight members at a time, meets the first and third Friday each month for a morning of camaraderie and competition.
“I’ve been a (University Club) member for a number of years and I realized, ‘Gee, there’s no chess group here,” Chess Mates Chairman John Snow said. “And wouldn’t it be nice if there were similar people at the University Club that had the same interest?”
Snow, along with his friend, Jim Arnold, reached out to other University Club members to put together the team. The club meetings have had the same tried-and-true format since the beginning. Members begin by watching 15- to 20-minute instructional videos on Youtube that offer tips and tricks for developing players. Following that, the group breaks into pairs to play.
Several members have joined and departed the group — Snow said many University Club members are snowbirds that leave for the summer — since its inception two years ago. Perry, though, has been a Chess Mate since the beginning. A self-described “continually improving beginner,” Perry played chess with with his son when he was much younger but eventually grew rusty.
They aren’t tournament players by any means — though Snow says he’d like enter a competition one day. Instead, the focus is to keep the games competitive and fun.
The game’s appeal for both Snow and Perry is its level of complexity and challenge that isn’t found in other games.
“It’s the kind of game where all the information is in front of you, but you have to read that information and understand it,” Snow said. “I tend to be an aggressive player. I don’t try to be a passive, defensive type. I enjoy the attack and putting an attack on someone that hopefully won’t be able to meet it.”
There’s another common theme among the Chess Mates — the group has helped many of its members rediscover the game after years of inactivity. Snow, a bankruptcy lawyer, became invested in the game again after creating the group.
“Like everybody else, I learned how to play chess as a kid,” he said. “My junior high school had a chess group that met, but then I went to high school and met girls and that was the end of that. … I decided to get more serious about it when I made the group at the University Club. The formation of the group was a means for me to become more serious about my chess life.
“I’m getting older, and I decided if I’m ever going to be good at the game at all, I need to do something now because time’s getting short,” said Snow, who is now 70.
When it comes to the game itself, Snow prefers the knight — a “quirky” piece he said appeals to him because of its ability to hop over opponents.
Although new members usually join Chess Mates after learning about the group from the University Club newsletter, anyone can join.
Open Strong - “The idea is to develop your pieces as quickly as possible, control as much space as possible, particularly in the middle of the board,” Snow said.
Don’t Rely On The Queen -“Every beginning chess player loves the queen, because the queen is so powerful,” Snow said. “But that’s also its weakness — its such a valuable piece that smaller, less valuable pieces can attack her and push her around, because nobody wants to lose the queen.”