The Journal Gazette
Monday, June 14, 2021 1:00 am

Chess pros visit Promenade

Community event allows enthusiasts, novices to try skill

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Spectators gathered Sunday in a shaded area of Promenade Park as nationally ranked chess player Nika Arnold, 18, shook hands with 12 opponents and made her first move in a dozen simultaneous games.

Meanwhile, expert player Rochelle Ballantyne, 25, welcomed and bested numerous opponents – sometimes while playing simultaneous games – inside the park's pavilion.

Even more people sat at tables and engaged in friendly competitions before a final tournament began.

“This is so cool,” said Tim Weybright, a longtime chess player who couldn't resist attending the free community event.

Local clubs Fort Chess and Take a Stan Chess Club are planning similar, albeit smaller, events from noon to 6 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month through October. All ages and skill levels are welcome.

“Don't be intimidated,” said Eli Paulk of Fort Chess.

On Sunday, about 150 chess sets dotted the downtown park for anyone wanting to play or eager to learn. Participants appeared to favor tables in the shade to avoid the bright, hot sunshine. Temperatures reached the low 80s.

Brain Walker of Take a Stan viewed the event as a way to bring the community together, noting that everyone is equal on the chessboard.

Along with the social aspects, Paulk said, the game is a “healthy habit” requiring focus, forethought and decision-making.

He and Walker acknowledged that “The Queen's Gambit” – the Netflix drama about a chess prodigy – helped increase the game's popularity.

It was easy to think of “The Queen's Gambit” on Sunday, especially as Arnold, a college student who graduated from Canterbury High School, played 12 games simultaneously.

“I'm watching her moves, and they're good moves,” said Weybright, who has played chess since 1965.

In high school, Weybright said, he once faced a grandmaster in a similar setup at Concord Mall in Elkhart.

“Thirty-seven of us went down fast,” he recalled.

Ballantyne, the expert player, was featured in “Brooklyn Castle,” a 2012 documentary about a New York junior high school's champion chess team.

Now a law student at New York University, she traveled to Fort Wayne for the chess event because she's passionate about spreading the importance of the game, she said. She said her life would be “completely different” without chess.

When playing against children, Ballantyne is like a coach, offering them guidance and letting them take back their moves, she said, answering questions as she played two games simultaneously.

One of her opponents was ready to concede, asking whether he should give up.

Ballantyne liked the competition. And she enjoys turning it up a notch against adult competitors.

“I love trash talking,” she said.

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