Chess: The Oldest, Most Popular Game In The World Thrives In Wyoming

Did you know chess is one of the most popular and oldest games in the World?

Lucas and Austin lead a discussion on how chess has made a huge comeback!

“But as I recall, the chess boom kind of happened right after COVID started because everyone had to stay inside, and no one enjoyed life. And then they found that they could play chess for free online. And they're like, oh, I've been meaning to learn chess. And so they hop on, they'll start playing chess and it was, I remember Chess.com and lichess.org, that two of the bigger sites online for playing chess kind of heated up. And then The Queen's Gambit dropped and everyone and their dogs started playing chess. And so that's where you started seeing a lot of things like just random people playing chess. And then the chess streaming scene popped up quite a bit.” 

-Austin Okray

 

But…we ask what is the Queens Gambit?

The Queen's Gambit is a 2020 miniseries based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. The title refers to the "Queen's Gambit", a chess opening. Beginning in the mid-1950s and proceeding into the 1960s, the story follows the life of Beth Harmon, a fictional chess prodigy on her rise to the top of the chess world while struggling with drug and alcohol dependency.

 

About Austin:

Austin Okray is a data scientist in the Denver area who lived in Wyoming until recently. When not working or in the outdoors, he enjoys playing and studying the game of chess. His favorite openings are the English Opening and the Kan Sicilian.

 

About Lucas Fralick:

Lucas is the Program Coordinator for Wyoming Humanities and lives in Gillette, WY. He is an avid reader, bird watcher, and enjoys a good game of chess. Lucas can often be seen playing chess in the wild at coffee shops and other public spaces, frequently using the London System.

 

About Brian Kuehl:

Brian Kuehl lives in Sheridan, Wyoming with his wife, Michelle and their daughter Catie. Brian is Director of Government and Public Affairs for Pinion Global, an international agriculture business advisory firm. Brian serves as Vice Chairman of the Wyoming Chess Association (www.WyomingChess.com) and as Treasurer of the Sheridan Chess Association (www.SheridanChess.com)

Fun Chess Facts:

  • Chess is a required school subject in Armenia.
  • The longest official game of chess took place in 1989 that went on for 20 hours and included 269 moves.
  • In a single game of chess, there are 400 possible moves after each move played.
  • It is possible to checkmate your opponent in just two moves.
  • Chess is a proven way to improve memory function.
  • About 70% of the adult population has played chess at some point in their lives, and about 605 million adults play chess regularly!

 

History of Chess:

  • The game of chess is believed to have originated in India, where it was call Chaturange prior to the 6th century AD.
  • The game became popular in India and then spread to Persia, and the Arabs.
  • The Arabs coined the term “Shah Mat”, which translates to “the King is dead”. This is where the word “checkmate” came from.
  • Archeologists have discovered ivory playing pieces and chess artifacts in Uzbekistan dating back to 760 AD – chess spread quickly and far!
  • The game of chess reached Western Europe around the year 1000.
  • Around 1475, changes were made to the game, and it evolved into its more current form. Also, around this time formal rules began to appear.

https://premierchess.com/chess-culture/a-brief-history-of-chess

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_queens_gambit/s01

https://www.forbesindia.com/article/special/how-the-queens-gambit-sparked-a-chess-frenzy/65163/1

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Emy DiGrappa (00:01):

Welcome to Winds of Change. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is centered on the people, places, history and stories of Wyoming. We talk about identity, community, land, and the winds of change, and what it means to thrive in our state. How does someone identify with wide open spaces and big personalities in small towns? Listen to folks from across our state share their connection to Wyoming and home. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities.

Lucas Fralick (00:52):

Hello, hello, hello. It's me, Lucas Fralick. I'm hosting today. I'm in the power seat. I'm driving this car. With me are my co-hosts, Emy DiGrappa and Chloe Flagg. How are you guys doing today?

Chloe Flagg (01:09):

Oh, with that introduction, I'm doing so great Lucas. That was fantastic. Welcome everyone.

Emy DiGrappa (01:16):

Yeah, Lucas, I love that intro. You're just taking over and I love it. So you just go, you just go for it.

Lucas Fralick (01:24):

Hopefully it won't go to my head. It's probably too late. Today we have a very interesting guest. He is a computer wizard, a avid hiker, a former Gillette resident, and he's really into photography. And of course we're not here to talk about any of those things. We're going to be talking about he really likes to play chess. It's a great time. Austin Okray, say hello to everybody.

Austin Okray (01:49):

Hello. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be a chess expert on a podcast where I don't feel like a chess expert, but I'm excited to be here.

Lucas Fralick (02:00):

Well, I can assure you you're more of an expert than any of us here, so it totally counts.

Austin Okray (02:05):

No, I'm excited still. I like chess a lot and I've been in the game for a while, so I think it'll be fun.

Lucas Fralick (02:11):

Good. I hope so. That was the idea when I pitched this episode, so hopefully everyone listening will think it's a great time too. So, speaking of chess, you said that you've been in the game for a long time. How long have you been playing? Who taught you? And give me some background.

Austin Okray (02:26):

So I can remember playing back as far as, oh man, I want to say maybe six or seven years old, where my dad taught me the game and didn't really show any mercy to my brother or I and I don't think we won a single game ever actually. I think he quit playing us after we got good enough to beat him so he remains undefeated. And then I had kind of a long hiatus before junior high where I'm sure you're familiar Lucas, there was a chess club there actually. And I wasn't as frequent an attendant as I should have been, but I did going on the trips, on the tournaments and stuff like that because you get to go on a bus ride, why not? It's fun.

(03:09):

And I played a little bit there, played a little bit with you and I created chess club in high school, which was awesome. And then again, another little hiatus and I picked it up again in college when the chess, I guess a little before the chess boom. And I just got really into trying to learn the queen's gambit and blah blah blah. And then the Queen's Gambit show showed up and that kind of surprised me. And then, yeah, I hit grad school and everything stopped dead in my life except for grad school. And then I finally got out and I've been really into it now for, man, how long have I been graduated? About a year now. So yeah, it's been really fun to go through and try and learn openings and get better and play genuine, true classical chess. Cause that's the different experience, man.

Chloe Flagg (03:49):

Austin, thank you so much for being here. I already feel like I'm learning a lot. I already have a question.

Austin Okray (03:54):

Yeah. Hit me.

Chloe Flagg (03:56):

What is the chess boom?

Austin Okray (04:01):

Yeah. So there's...

Chloe Flagg (04:01):

When did it happen? What's entailed?

Austin Okray (04:05):

No, for sure. It might not be right on the dot, but as I recall, the chess boom kind of happened right after COVID started because everyone had to stay inside and no one enjoyed life. And then they found that they could play chess for free online and they're like, oh, I've been meaning to learn chess. And so they hop on, start playing chess. I remember chess.com and Lichess, the two of the bigger sites online for playing chess, kind of heated up and then the Queen's Gambit dropped and everyone of their dogs started playing chess. And so that's where you started seeing a lot of things like just random people playing chess and, oh yeah. And then the chess streaming scene popped up quite a bit. That was what I was going for. So you saw our seen streamers like Levy Rozman of GothamChess and Hikaru Nakamura, they would really just start, I mean their viewing audiences went from hundreds to thousands or even tens of thousands. And so everyone got very into chess right around there.

Chloe Flagg (04:59):

Okay, that's very helpful. Thank you.

Austin Okray (05:01):

Yes, yes.

Emy DiGrappa (05:02):

So I just want to say Austin, I think your dad is a genius for stopping. He didn't play with you when he thought you could beat him and so he's still undefeated. That's a genius move as a parent. You can never say anything about that.

Austin Okray (05:18):

No, 100%. Yeah. Anytime I say like, oh, let's play chess now. I'm just so busy. Oh, I could beat you now. Oh, but I'm still undefeated. Exactly, yeah. What do you say to that?

Emy DiGrappa (05:28):

Yeah, I think that's great.

Austin Okray (05:30):

Yeah.

Emy DiGrappa (05:31):

Now explain what the queen's gambit is. I'm curious about that.

Austin Okray (05:35):

The opening or the show or both?

Chloe Flagg (05:37):

Yeah, why not give us a little synopsis of both.

Austin Okray (05:40):

Okay. So the Queen's Gambit on Netflix was a show about, well, I guess spoilers cause I'll touch on brief spoilers but I won't go into any real depth, about a gal who likes chess and then she takes too many pills and sees chess boards and stuff and hallucinates moves. And this passion for chess and drugs leads her to the, it's a bad synopsis, leads her to the world championship of, or not the world championship, a very big tournament where she beats the world champion, gets clean from drugs, but continues playing chess. And her opening that she plays is the queen's gambit, which is an opening that is called a gambit, but is actually... So a gambit normally in chess involves losing a pawn so you can get more pieces out on the board and try and attack your opponent more quickly. And the queen's gambit is kind of unique in the sense of, it's not really a gambit because you win the pawn back and it's just a very solid opening. And so it's both in the show a very good opening and in real life, something grand masters still play.

Lucas Fralick (06:43):

I should mention to all the viewers today, I should have done this on the outset, but Austin and I go back pretty far. We've been friends for quite some time. He's a few years behind me, but we went to the same schools, lived in the same community for quite some time before we went our separate ways. And so we do play chess frequently. In fact, just last night we played a few games to try to get back into the chess mode. I want to say that's probably appropriate. Speaking of the idea of getting back into chess, we played what's known as bullet chess and Austin, I know that you play quite a bit of that. What is bullet chess and why do you like it so much? I mean, I know what it is but I really want to know why you like it so much.

Austin Okray (07:25):

No, for sure. No, yeah. So this kind of gets into an interesting, I'm going to go kind of wide scope to why I like it so much. So for a long time, chess kind of had a reputation of being this stuffy, you sit in front of a board and you play games and you do that all day and you play two games and you do nothing else. And online chess, starting with the internet chess club back in the early 2000s I think, really kind of revolutionized this idea of you can play five minute, three minute, one minute, 30 second chess really easily because you don't... And you no longer have to move the piece, move your hand from the board without knocking any other pieces over and slap the clock. All of a sudden you just move the mouse and there's no risk of having to reset the board having penalties, having blah, blah blah.

(08:09):

So that been kind of going on for a long time in the actual chess player world where people are going for masters, master titles and stuff. And then with the chess boom, a lot of people got into both playing and watching it cause it's so much faster than watching classical chess because in classical chess, depending on the position, you might get move every 15 minutes. But in bullet chess, you got to move, you got to move now. And because you have to move now, blunders happen and exciting things happen. And so it became a really good spectator sport and I kind of got into it like that because when you have one minute to play an entire chess game, someone hangs a queen and you're just like, yes, I got it. I win. Yes. But just as often you hang your own queen.

(08:53):

And so it ends up just being a really fun way of playing the game where it's pretty low risk, it's pretty low stress. And then you can just slip in a game in the bathroom or something cause it's just one minute per side, who cares? And so I've really gotten into timed chess less than three minutes or so, and oh my gosh, it's fun. But yeah, it's just because you don't have to sit and think about these positions for so long. You just play the move, you got to so.

Lucas Fralick (09:18):

Oh, it's a nightmare for me. Often if we play, I lose, I don't know, would you say two thirds if not more of the games?

Austin Okray (09:26):

We can check the score.

Lucas Fralick (09:27):

Yeah, we could, but we don't need to. What's great is that lichess.org that we play online, it records everyone's games that you play with that individual person. So you can see who won, who lost, who drew, et cetera. And it keeps it there. So even if you don't play for months at a time and you go back to playing that person, it says it reminds you how many games you've lost against that person. It's really handy if you enjoy that sort of thing. So I realized as you were discussing... Oh, sorry, Emy, go ahead.

Emy DiGrappa (10:01):

Like Austin was saying in the classic chess, you could take a whole day to make a move and I would just go crazy and have nightmares about my next move. So the bullet chess is probably much more attractive to me.

Austin Okray (10:16):

You're absolutely right. And I've played these classical games and you'll spend like, well half the time you're playing kids, so you're like I feel like I should win, but they're going to beat me. I'm going to feel bad. And then you take, oh man, I think the longest move I've ever had was a 20 minute think where you're thinking, if I move this piece here, then da da da da da. If I move this piece here, da da da da da. And you make the move and you almost just feel sick to your stomach afterwards. Cause you're like, God, I hope that made the right move. There's this, I don't know. So yeah, it is high stress, but it is really cool for sure when you win.

Lucas Fralick (10:53):

Speaking of losing to people you wouldn't expect, it's probably one of the highlights of chess is that it's ageless. Anyone can play it. And so do you have a recent tournament experience where you played against somebody who, by appearances, you think you could walk all over them, but it was the other way around? Or vice versa, you thought they would be really challenging but they turned out not to be?

Austin Okray (11:16):

Oh yeah. Yeah. I haven't played a whole lot of tournament chess recently cause I've been really busy with some other photography type projects and stuff like that. But the last one I played was about five months ago. It was the Colorado Open. And usually, oh God, it's all generalization, so I have to apologize. But usually the older an opponent, you're just like, okay, if they're in my bracket where I'm not super high rated, I'm probably going to have an easier time. Whereas if you see a kid, it's like they're just underrated. They play chess all day and then their parents make them food and you're going to lose and they're going to go and have a good rest of their day and you're not. And so this guy played Tom, he and I ended up drawing after he ran out of time, ironically because he kept forgetting to hit his clock, and that was a pretty surprising one.

(12:05):

And then there's another guy that usually in the mid-teens, in tournament chess there's been kind of a pattern of the, what'd you call it? The pandemic hero, where they play chess for two years straight. They don't see another living soul that plays chess. And then they go to a single tournament and they're playing way above their rank because they've played some insane, insane chess online. And so I saw one guy that was maybe 18, 19, I was like, oh God, what is this going to be? And that one ended up being very easy. That was a, I'm scrolling through the game right now. Yeah, it was like a 20 move win. So yeah, so it goes back and forth. Oh, I don't think I can hear you, Corey.

Lucas Fralick (12:44):

Oh no, I didn't say anything.

Austin Okray (12:45):

Oh, gotcha, gotcha. No, but it ends up being a, it's a really, it's a toss up. But yeah, kids are usually the ones you have to look out for because they, holy crap, they have nothing to do but study chess and play chess all day.

Lucas Fralick (12:58):

Yeah, anytime I see a kid at a tourney I shake a little bit because I know I'm in for a tough game.

Austin Okray (13:03):

Yeah. Oh yeah.

Lucas Fralick (13:04):

Kids are the best at this game.

Austin Okray (13:07):

Yeah. Well, yeah. And they're the ones who becomes the Grand Masters too. Oh yeah, it's always this conversation. You hear streamers and stuff talk about like, oh, how old are you? You can't be a grand master. And you look at that and you say, that's like kind of rude. You don't know me, you don't know anything about me. And then you hear the way that these guys talk and you understand why kids, I mean, my God, as young as six, start playing the game and memorizing the game. In fact, what was it? I think it was at the Colorado Open actually, there was a little gal there that was, I think she was eight or nine. She was playing in the top bracket and I think she went, man, three for five or something like that. I mean, she's going to be a grand master someday if she keeps playing.

(13:51):

And the reason it's so hard to become a grand master if you're not starting at 6, 7, 8, 9 is because you have to learn openings. You have to learn tactics because so much of chess is just pattern recognition, really. The pattern recognition is so big. I can't stress that enough because when you're thinking about a position and how your pieces might move, you] can kind of picture it like the Queen's Gambit does where you see the board. But the bigger thing is you see the board and you get into a position where you're like, I recognize this. I know this'll be okay for me. Or oh, there's a tactic there, I might be winning. And so kids start memorizing these tactics and positions and stuff like that from 6, 7, 8, 9. And then you have people like Hikaru Nakamura who can just knock out the majority of a game.

(14:34):

They can just recite it from memory. Almost any game from the last 50 years and any opening they play, they can just recite the whole thing from memory basically. Like, oh, I remember it was Capablanca versus this guy and D4, knight F3, da da da da da. And they just rattle it all off. And from an outsider's perspective, you're just like how can any human do this? And then you realize they've done nothing else for 20, 30 years. And it's like, okay, well that makes more sense. But that's why grand masters are so, it's so hard to become a grand master because people, I mean, they treat it like a profession. So if you're just treating it like a hobby, you can't catch up. It's crazy.

Chloe Flagg (15:10):

So that brings me to a question. I tried to play chess a long time ago and I haven't tried again because I'm a very sore loser, which is something I learned about myself as I played chess. But what is it about the game? There are certain things like this that happen throughout history, throughout time that people just glom onto. And like you said, it's either a hobby or a profession. And what is it about chess that keeps people so glued to the game and so interested?

Austin Okray (15:48):

It's an interesting question, and I'm sure I will give an answer that is not unique, but is I feel, the truth. Well, there's two things. It's very complex and there's kind of a tendency, it seems like, for people to just love complex things because it's like if we can unwrap that complex thing, oh that's be neat. But then the other thing is computers haven't fully solved it yet. Computers are very good at chess, but they haven't fully solved it. And I mean, with checkers, you don't get the same excitement. There's no checkers league because it's actually been computationally solved. What is it? I think it's white and black pieces there as well and then white is guaranteed to win. It's been shown. But chess not so much. It's weird, it's creative and there's also no right way to play. In fact, there's several people throughout history who have been like, if they weren't masters, they were close who didn't even bother studying opening theories.

(16:42):

They sat down the board like, I'm going to try this move. So there's just all sorts of just creativity that can be poured into the game. There's immense depth. It's a very easy game to learn, but very hard to master. I think that's a very attractive feature of it. But I mean, that's the reasons I can name for, I guess why chess is so popular. I don't, Corey, do you have anything else that, any other reasons, I guess? Because I don't know, you play the game too. I'm just curious if you would agree or disagree with anything.

Lucas Fralick (17:09):

No, I think that's pretty much the same for me. It's more to have a habit anymore. I think there was a time when I was really getting into chess, but I feel like I've kind of pumped the brakes a little bit. But I'm not really a sore loser. I'm definitely a bad winner though. I really get into winning too much. But not to say I do win a lot, but when I do win, I really make it seem like it really goes to my head. I lose probably more than I win these days and I feel it is fine. It's actually a motivator to try harder but.

Emy DiGrappa (17:46):

Well, I have to say, that was one of the things that was on my brain when I was thinking about chess and the history of chess, and it seems like it has a stereotype, is that only brainiacs play chess.

Austin Okray (17:58):

Yeah, this is kind of funny because everyone always says that and it's so untrue. There's geniuses who are good at chess and then there's a ton of geniuses who maybe could be good at chess but don't care enough to even try. And it's just like okay, so does that mean they're stupid because they don't know chess? Yeah. And this is something that's talked quite a bit about. International Master Levy Osmond's Channel, GothamChess. He talks quite a bit about how he's like, "Some of the stupidest people I've ever met are chess players," and people always say like, oh, if he plays chess, he must be so smart. Or she must be so talented, she's playing chess at 10. No, it doesn't mean anything, it's just chess.

(18:40):

And yeah, I think a lot of it comes from the idea that you have to logic through these positions and you can, but like I said, man, when you calculate a position five moves deep you're no longer thinking about every single piece and da da da da da. Unless you're Magnus Carlson, you're probably just saying, okay, five moves from now oh, there's a tactic or I recognize that position and it's fancy memorization basically.

Emy DiGrappa (19:01):

I think a photographic memory would be helpful then.

Austin Okray (19:04):

I bet so, honestly. I wish I had a photographic memory cause I feel like I would be a lot better at chess. But yeah, I imagine it would. And I actually don't know. It'd be interesting to know how many chess players have photographic memories or something akin to that because I mean, it's got to help. Just being able to picture a position and picture the position you're going to end up in. Yeah, it's got to help.

Chloe Flagg (19:29):

So how long have people been playing chess? How long has it been a pastime?

Austin Okray (19:36):

Well modern chess theory really took off because the Soviets actually were storing, had a chess library and they were storing every single game played in Soviet territories or abroad at any tournament. So I mean they had this enormous library that was just, I mean it dwarfed anywhere else in the world. It dwarfed libraries anywhere else in the world. And so that's why you saw Russian players being champions and top tens and da da da for decades. And then I don't remember his name, but this American guy was like, "Hey, I'd sure to look at your library and maybe put it online." And I believe it was right after the fall of the Soviet Union. They were just like like, yeah, I sure, why not? And so he shows up and he gets access to all these books and he starts what was called the ChessBase.

(20:23):

This is the foundation for all modern chess because every single game that's ever been played by someone that's, I want to say like 1900 or higher, maybe even like 2100 or higher, is in that ChessBase. And now what you can do is you can say, okay, I want to play C4, my I opponent plays C5. I play knight F3, he's going to play knight F6, da da da. And you can see how many games have been played in this position. You can see what the results are, white, black or tie, white win, black win or tie. Or, oh, let's see, well I could try a new thing here, I could try a new move here. And all of a sudden that move goes into the database.

(20:58):

And so yeah, a lot of people actually blamed that guy as partially killing chess because he took the mystery out of the openings and the studying out because you can just look at the computer now. And then I think he held that blame for quite a while until computer chess started coming around and now we blame computers for killing chess. But yeah, that was kind of what started the modern, maybe post-modern chess boom was the publication of the Soviet chess library.

Lucas Fralick (21:30):

I didn't know that that's the origins of ChessBase, no clue.

Chloe Flagg (21:34):

And for those listening, Lucas enjoys playing chess so much that he brings a chess board to the bar with him. It was one of the first things I learned about Lucas that made me love him even more than I already did. As you know, we have a remote office, Wyoming Humanities is a remote office. So I'm here in Laramie, Lucas is in Gillette, Emmy's in Moran, and we got together for a staff retreat I think at some point and he's carrying this little case and I'm like, "What is that?" And he's like, "Oh, that's my chess set." And I'm like, "What?" And he's like, "Oh yeah, no, I bring it with me anywhere I can because someone's going to play me, someone will play me." And he's right. People play him and I am shocked, totally shocked. But Lucas plays for fun, but he will play anywhere and he will play anyone. So if you see Lucas out at a bar, be prepared for him to ask you to play chess. It will happen.

Lucas Fralick (22:36):

Yep, it's true. And I'm sure a Austin can relate a little bit to this also, there's nothing quite playing chess with people in a bar. It's probably the best experience ever. You get random people show up and you just play them.

Austin Okray (22:50):

Well, I don't go outside Corey, you know that.

Lucas Fralick (22:50):

Oh, right.

Austin Okray (22:51):

No, mountain goats don't like to play chess so much so I don't bring my chest out hiking with me. But no, I will say whenever I'm in Gillette, man, we always meet at City Brew and we go and if we're not allowed to say this, I'll do another start. We go to a coffee place and play chess, but we...

Lucas Fralick (23:15):

Non sponsored.

Austin Okray (23:15):

Yeah, non-sponsored. Pay us money. Pay these guys money. But we'll just whip out the chess board and be playing games, drink coffee, goofing around and people will stop and look and people will look at the position, what was it? Was the manager of the nearby restaurant would even just look over our shoulders and one day he even just sat down next to us and was just asking us questions. So yeah, everybody wants to join in.

Lucas Fralick (23:36):

That's great. All right. Hey Austin, thanks so much for joining us today. I had a great time. I hope you did too.

Austin Okray (23:44):

Yeah, it was fun. Yeah, I hope I didn't get too chess-y, I guess, I don't know. I enjoyed talking about it. Appreciate you guys having me on.

Chloe Flagg (23:51):

Thanks so much, Austin. This was great. I learned a lot.

Emy DiGrappa (23:54):

And it was really inspired by Lucas and like Chloe said, him bringing his chess bag to our staff retreat dinner and we're like, what? And then we're like, wow, this is a passion and this is a great way to learn something new and learn about Lucas and learn about really the whole chess boom like you were talking about. It's been really interesting.

Austin Okray (24:20):

Yeah, it's been surprising to see a thousand-year-old game get a revival, so it's been fun to be a part of as well.

Emy DiGrappa (24:26):

Yeah.

Chloe Flagg (24:28):

Thanks Austin.

Lucas Fralick (24:29):

Bye-bye.

Emy DiGrappa (24:35):

Keep listening as we hear from two Wyoming chess players, the chess community, and learn about their chess journey and love of the game. Sign up for our newsletter by using the QR code or click on the link in the episode description. Thanks for listening.

Speaker 6 (24:56):

I remember my dad had an old, one of those first generation chess computers that wasn't very good compared to what there is today. So I've played my whole life, but really started playing more intensely maybe six years ago just with some folks here in Sheridan. Certainly there weren't any competitive chess players. It was all just a fun board game, much like you'd play Monopoly or Parcheesi. But a few years ago at the Sheridan YMCA, there were some people playing chess and so I started playing with them. And then the YMCA hosted a little informal tournament here in Sheridan, and that really got my competitive juices flowing and it sort of took over as a midlife passion for me.

(25:40):

Well, I mean in terms of when I recognized how firmly I had the bit in my teeth, was recognizing that I will dream about chess, literally be asleep and be processing patterns and games that I have ongoing. I think that's true of anything when you become fluent. They say you're fluent in a language when you start to dream in that language. It's the same thing with chess. I think as you play enough and you learn how it works, it becomes where you can process that literally in your sleep.

(26:14):

And I've had games, they're what are called daily games, you can play chess obviously over the board in five minutes or over an hour or over two hours, but there are games called daily games and the daily games you have a couple of days to make your move so the games can go on for months. You sort of think about what you want to move, you make your move and then your opponent has a couple days to make their move. And there have been times where I'll have a position on the board that I'm struggling with trying to figure out how to turn it to my advantage. I'll go to sleep, I'll dream about the position, I'll wake up and I will have solved the problem. To me, that's a good sign that I'm internalizing these patterns.

(26:55):

So there's different types and different time controls for chess. So there's the fastest is called bullet chess and people will play chess where each person has one minute to make all of their moves. So the hands are just moving lightning fast because you're just throwing down moves and if you run out of time, you lose the game. So you're both playing against your opponent and against the clock. A little bit more relaxed, but not by much is what's called blitz chess. Blitz chess will be three minutes to 10 minutes to make all of your moves. So still fast, but a little bit more comfortable. And then there's rapid chess where maybe you take 30 minutes to make all your moves.

(27:36):

The Sheridan Chess Association that I'm involved with, we hosted a tournament in Sheridan, a formal tournament last May and we'll host another one this coming May, which is rated by the US Chess Federation, which is the US rating organization. And there we play classical games, which you have 90 minutes to make all of your moves so the game can last three hours. So it's regulated. You can't take all the time in the world, but you certainly have time to think about your move and really consider the board before you make a move. So here in Sheridan, we host an afterschool chess program every Thursday evening at 5:45 and we invite anyone to come, school kids and adults alike, to come and play and we give a little lesson, but mostly it's just fun over the board play and a real mentoring opportunity where older people are mentoring younger people.

(28:28):

But last Thursday we had probably 30 people show up for Thursday night chess. And the ages range from literally four years old to probably 85. And you can't imagine or can't come up with many examples anymore where that age range is working together in society. We've become very segmented as a country and as a society globally. And so having an opportunity for an 80-year-old to be sitting down helping a four year old learn a game is really heartening and I think is a good sign that the chess community really is for everyone. It's also heartening because chess is apolitical. I mean, it's just a game and it's also an example, I think more and more in society we're becoming balkanized where you have your group that tends to think like you do politically and it just frankly gets exhausting. And it's so refreshing to have this type of activity and outlet where we'll have people sitting across the table playing chess who are complete opposite sides of the political spectrum and it doesn't matter because this isn't about politics, this is about working together.

(29:43):

And in a lot of respects it's about building community because you're building those relationships between people and giving them a point of reference that is taken out of some of the divisiveness that we run into so often in today's society. It is a game in which you compete. But it's interesting, I mean there's an individual here in Sheridan who's rated about where I am in terms of skill level and he and I definitely are competitors. I mean, if we play each other, I want to win and he wants to win. And if we go to a tournament, he wants to place better than I place. But at the same time we'll share information, we'll look at particular openings the way the chess board develops early and we'll share ideas. So it's both competitive and collaborative. And again, I think that's a good sign for the community that appreciates chess.

(30:34):

I think that in the '60s and '70s, I mean during the Cold War, chess really became popularized because it was the clash of the United States versus Russia and the USSR. And Bobby Fisher was the world chess champion and he was an American and that I think galvanized public attention around chess. So I think there was a real growth in US chess because of that fight and because we had a champion. More recently, I think two things have happened that have really galvanized chess in the United States. Number one was the series Queen's Gambit, which if your listeners haven't seen it, it's well worth watching. I'm sure you can get it on Netflix. And a story about a young woman who becomes a chess master and very relatable. I think that certainly captured public opinion or public attention. A lot of people have started playing chess after seeing that series.

(31:29):

And then the other thing I think was that series came out right at the start of the pandemic. And I think the pandemic really has driven the growth of chess in part because you can play online. So there are a number of platforms, one of them is chess.com, which is easy to remember, and I can go on chess.com and I can play chess games against people all over the world. And I do, I'll play against people in Switzerland or in Brazil. I mean you can pick up games depending on the time zone with people all over the world, which is another great way to think about chess community, that we're really connecting people globally. But I think during the pandemic when a lot of people were shut in their houses and didn't have things to do, they might have known about chess or played an occasional game, but this was an outlet for people. And I think that really drove a whole lot of activity and desire to learn about chess during the pandemic.

(32:22):

So the great thing about chess.com, there are a number of great things, and it's just one of multiple platforms like it. Number one, it's free. Like all websites, you can pay for an upgraded account with all sorts of lessons and other information, but you can play games against people around the world for free. So there's no charge. And when you start, it will ask you kind of like if you go skiing, they'll say, are you a beginner, intermediate, or advanced? And you sort of declare where you think you sort out. And then based on that, they give you an initial rating. So if you're a beginner, you might start with a rating of, I forget what they do, but let's say 600 points. And then they'll start pairing you with other people who play at that level.

(33:05):

So you're playing people who are at your level and if you win, your rating goes up, if you lose, your rating goes down. And so the more you play and the better you get, the higher your rating goes but you're always paired with people at about the same rating level. So whether you're just beginning and don't really even know how the pieces move, you're just figuring it out, that's okay. You'll be playing people who are at that same skill level. And if you've really dived into it and learned a lot and really are competitive, they'll match you up with people who are playing at that same level.

(33:39):

I mentioned the Sheridan, what they call Over the Board Tournament, a formal tournament that we'll hold first weekend in May in Sheridan. And that's open to players of all levels. We'll have beginners who have never played in a tournament. Last year we had a grand master come from Tennessee. We had an international master come from New York. We actually had a team come from Kyrgyzstan to play in Sheridan, a team of five people who came and played chess in Sheridan all the way from right next to China. But those are long format games and you really do have to think and concentrate and it's very tough. It's very demanding to focus for that amount of time and really, really play a careful game. So there's something for everyone.

(34:22):

So I mentioned US Chess Federation, which is the governing body for chess in the United States. We post our tournament to their website. So if you're in the US and looking to play in a tournament, they have a listing of all the tournaments that are coming up. And I think the Kyrgyz had taken a look that they knew what kind of dates they had in mind when they wanted to come to the United States and they saw our tournament listed. And so they sent over over this group of youngsters who it turned out did not speak English to speak of. So we had to scramble and find an interpreter who spoke Russian or Kyrgy and could translate, but just added a delightful bit of color to a small tournament in Sheridan, Wyoming.

Lucas Fralick (35:11):

I'm Lucas Fralick, program coordinator for Wyoming Humanities and I believe I'm here because I really like to play chess. I think about chess, I see other people play chess. I play chess. It's a great time. And my grandpa taught me how to play. Great guy, recently passed away unfortunately, but he taught me how to play. Everything I know about chess up to that point, he taught me all the moves and some basic openings, very low bar stuff. But I kept losing to him all the time. I would play him and win, lose. Winning, you can forget about it. I always lost. Well, one day I complained. I said, "I'm really tired of losing grandpa. I really want to..." And he said, "Well, you need to eventually you're going to get tired of losing and you're going to start winning." It's like, well, it already happened, I'm tired of losing, so okay, whatever.

(35:58):

But then one day, a couple days later, I won my very first game. He was totally right. Eventually you do get tired of losing and you just start winning. And I've kind of broadened that into a big philosophy on life in general. And just like, well, if you keep being pushed down, you're going to get tired of that. You're just going to step up a little bit. And in chess, that's just what I did. I just stepped up. I don't win all the games I play now, but I learned the whole lesson there is you learn more from losing than you do from winning. The idea is to apply it. So I think in a lot of ways the fun of chess comes from the challenges that it presents. I mean, for me personally, I'm sure people have many other reasons, but for me, I really enjoy the puzzle solving and the challenge that it brings to me.

(36:39):

Often things can be too easy. I'm not saying that I'm super smart and that's not at all what I'm trying to imply. I mean that chess is different every time, and I've never played a game that's the same. I'll use the same opening or system or however that works out, but it's always different. And so no amount to me, no amount of studying will make a huge difference other than just knowing what could happen next. And I really like that level of unknown and the newness that comes into chess. From my experience, the chess scene in Wyoming has grown the past few years, which is great. When growing up in high school, I joined a chess club. We created one. We used to play chess in the journalism classroom during lunch because what else were we going to do? We weren't going to talk to other people of course, that would be too challenging. Instead we're going to play chess in the journalism room.

(37:38):

But that was a lot of fun. And we did team up with the local junior high, which we also had a chess club there when we were younger. And we went to some tournaments, which I'm still proud to say that our chess trophies are still at the school where we placed them. Isn't until recently that we started seeing more adult tournaments, usually in Cheyenne and then even very, very recently over in Sheridan, not too far from Gillette, which is really great that the Wyoming chess Association's really building themselves up, a lot of fun that way. Locally, there was a tournament not too long ago, which I'm proud to say that I did win, and that was a lot of fun. It was considered scholastic, all ages, big open, unrated. So people just played and that's great.

(38:19):

I love those sort of games. That's what we do. Casual games are great, a lot of fun. During that experience, I did meet more like-minded chess players, and so we recently formed a small club, which has its first meeting coming up later this month and it should be a lot of fun. But in terms of games I get while I'm living here in Gillette, mainly online games. I have a lot of friends that I've met throughout my chess playing adventures and I just, we exchange information and we play chess online through chess.com or lichess.org. We talk about the games and we just play them. So to clarify, there are two different kinds of tournaments. There are rated tournaments and scholastic tournaments. Scholastic tournaments are unrated, also just known as unrated tournaments. They're just there. Scholastic's also usually referred to as young chess players, kids usually. And those are almost always unrated, not always, but most of the time.

(39:09):

Rated tournaments are, you're a member of the US Chess Federation or the International Federations, all these different clubs, and you get an official rating. Now this is different from your chess.com rating or your lichess.org rating, which you get one, but those are more unofficial. They give you a good idea of where you're at, but it won't count. You need a Chess Federation rating and it's a membership and kids get a deal, it's really nice that they do that now. And students also get a discount FYI, for any students listening. It's definitely worth checking out because if you start getting rated earlier in your chess playing career, the sooner you get on the board, which takes about 15 games, 15 rated games, your first 15 as a rated player, that's when you get on the board. You win all those, your rating's going to start out pretty high and then you just start moving around.

(39:59):

What's great about this is when you go to a rated tournament, you're usually categorized so you end up playing players similar to your rating, give or take a few hundred points. This way you're able to play players within your skill level. So it's not only fun for you, it's also challenging and that's important. And when you win, it feels good. And when you lose, it doesn't feel so bad because you know you lost due to a player who it was about your level. So it's okay, I could have just easily beaten them. And you just worked your way up. The highest rating, and I can't tell you, but I don't think there's ever been a 3000 level player, if that helps. I think it was more like 2,500 and above is grand master level and 2000s above is, which is right below that, international master's, masters candidates, those sorts of things.

(40:40):

And then my level, which is more like 1200, 1300, which is pretty low really, it just is, mainly because I don't play a lot of tournaments, but I play a lot. It's just what it is. It's a lot of fun that way. I really love playing chess in public. Coffee shops, bars, libraries, places where there's going to be people. And I usually do something else while I wait for an opponent and it's a great way to network because if you have a chess board open and ready and you're doing something else while you wait and people, oh yeah, do you play chess? Like sure, you just play a game. And that's a great way, I mean, great friends have been made that way. But if you are also like me and live in a place where it can be tough to go out all the time, live in a small town or just really busy, chess.com is really nice.

(41:24):

It's free. You can pay. If you pay, get access to trainings and stuff but that's not necessary just to play a game with people and talk to them and analyze games in a pretty simple way. You can totally do that. Chess.com, it's exactly the way it's spelled, chess.com. And then of course there's lichess.org, which is l-i-chess.org, also really great. Same thing. It's free, but it has a bit more to it and is more easier to use for a lot of more people. So either one is great. You can chat with people about chess, you can play them, you can play strangers, you can play friends, you can set up time controls. It's really nice. I mean, I often play games where we each have three days to move.

(42:06):

It's called correspondence chess. It's perfect for busy modern lives. You can look at it, okay, I don't want to move yet. Think about it for a couple days, then respond. It's best for friendly games. I don't usually do that with people I don't know cause I like talking to them while I play. I usually don't talk to strangers online too often that way, but you can, it's all optional. That's great. So those are pretty easy ways to access chess if you want to, even if you want to get started or just want to play somebody. I mean, meeting people is one of my favorite things to do. Meeting people and playing chess with them is even better. And what's really great is if you meet somebody and you become friends and you play chess all the time in a space, it's really cool to get strangers just to watch you play the game. And they come up and say, "Ooh, how's they're going?" And I have no idea what they mean by that usually but it's fun because people are engaging with you and they see you playing chess.

(43:01):

I'm a big people person, so I get energy around that. I know some chess players probably don't, but I really like it. It's a public thing, chess. I've always wanted to go to a city and play an old man in the park. I'm still waiting for that experience. I haven't gotten that yet. I've looked in many parks in many cities, but always it's in the winter, cold fall, so you just don't see it. But one day everything will line up just right and I'll be able to play a random person in the park. That's one of my big goals. And those sort of games, honestly, are the most memorable for me.

(43:36):

I mean, I remember some of the real tough ones in tournaments, but I'll never forget many of those games I played with my grandpa or the ones I played with people I still consider friends today. It was like, yeah, that was just a lot of, not so much the game itself, but the conversation that evolved from it and those experiences. And I think chess can be a social game and that's exactly the point. Go to a coffee shop, get some pastries and some warm beverages and enjoy playing chess, just talk about it. It's great.

Emy DiGrappa (44:08):

Thank you for listening. I'm executive producer Emy DiGrappa. Winds of Change is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, our co-hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinkwy.org. Subscribe and never miss a show.