Diversity is nothing new in chess

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Photo: Dave Rutherford considers his next move at Dayton Chess Club; photo: Bill Franz


As a chess neophyte, I was intimidated even by walking into the Dayton Chess Club, housed as it is in the unassuming but remarkably grand Reed-Steffan building in Dayton’s terra cotta Historic District, nestled in between the glow of the Convention Center and the garlic wafts from Spaghetti Warehouse. As I approached the doors of the all-glass façade, I smiled remembering what comedian Emo Philips once had to say about the game: “A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.”

I pulled open the door and walked right into the middle of a lecture by Russian-born International Master Leonid Bass. The faintest ripple of head turns acknowledged my entrance, engrossed as the attendees were in the instruction. Children and retirees sat elbow-to-elbow around six tables, each dotted with multiple chess setups. All attention was focused on the presentation at hand, “Tactics in the King’s Indian Defense.” As the master maneuvered pieces on a display board tacked to the west wall, murmurs of appreciation rumbled through the crowd as Bass showed them how a key move set up a beautiful position. He delved into the history of how he developed the strategy that helped him to defeat Canadian International Master Kevin Spraggett in the third round of the 1983 Kavkasian International Tournament, replaying every move and occasionally asking the room what they would do next. On one such occasion, a little boy’s hand shot up. When he offered his suggested move, he was gently rebuffed by the master with a nudging “I think you can do better.”

Riley Driver, who co-owns DCC with his wife Sharon, took me on a tour of the club, ushering me past stacks of Chess Life Magazine, display cases resplendent with custom chess pieces, scores of framed photographs depicting decades of members and tournaments. The giant King and Pawn room has an entirely different feel than the anterior of the building. The tile is laid out in a chessboard pattern under vaulted ceilings, and yet even in such a grand space, the plush furniture and vintage posters donning the walls give it an intimate, welcoming feel. “In here, it doesn’t matter if you’re a king or a peasant,” Riley, who also serves as DCC’s tournaments and calendar vice president, tells me of the choice behind the room’s name.

The lower floor of the building is where the tournaments take place. Equipped with high-tech boards and full at a 160-player capacity, the subterranean room stretches fore and aft, lined with gigantic support columns. If you were of mind, you may imagine you’ve been transported to an ancient grotto. Palpable are the vibrations left behind by the brilliant minds of those who have occupied the space, locked in strategic combat played out in feverish movements across a fickle two-toned lattice. “If you’re not playing intensely, like you really want to win,” Riley intones, “then you’re just a woodpusher.” Over-the-board trash-talk. I love it.

I inquired of Riley as to how DCC has kept membership up in this Digital Age, a time when you could find a chess opponent online any time, day or night—no need to put on pants or venture into the uncertainty of the outside. Playing in person, “You’re looking at a person, face-to-face,” Riley explains. “It’s like boxing with your brain.” And unlike in cyberspace, you know for certain you’re in a bout with a human contender.


Game for the people

“This is a gathering place for all ages, all professions,” says Sharon Driver, who, in addition to being an owner, is also DCC website, Facebook, Twitter vice president. “Chess is one of the rare games where ages of the players matter not.”

In her time with DCC, Sharon has seen the community-building power of chess roll across generational lines. She witnessed a budding friendship between a pre-teen young boy with an older gentleman, well into his late 80s, after playing many times together. She was privy to the regained cognizance of an Alzheimer’s patient who, having been brought to DCC by his daughter-in-law from his assisted living facility, became clear headed once he sat down at the board. Sharon saw an extraordinary sight when a young boy with autism, who had trouble settling down, came in and was able to focus once he sat down to play a game of chess.

“One of my favorite aspects of the game is that it transcends all age, race, religious, socioeconomic, and political demographics,” says Shawn Irish, Beavercreek-based attorney and DCC president. “At any given club or at any given tournament, you will meet players of all ages and walks of life. One minute you may be playing a 10-year-old master and the next a 65-year-old veteran just learning to play the game.”

And those players may not necessarily be neighbors, in the strictest geographic sense. DCC routinely hosts international tournaments, drawing competitors from all corners.

“It’s great to get to know a wide range of people while speaking a common language,” Irish says. “The camaraderie is strong. We all compete against each other, but everyone is also supportive of each other, as well. We are all trying to help each other become stronger players.”

To attract younger players (and newbies like myself), DCC offers its “Scholastic Knights” evening on Thursdays, a night geared toward students with instruction on simple tactics and the opportunity to play on a low-stress, beginner level.

“Parents are becoming aware of how the game of chess can help improve their children’s studies—in all subjects. Even a cursory knowledge of the game helps,” Sharon says.

The “all are welcome” vibe gives kids who are navigating those tricky pre-adult years a safe, enriching place to call their own. “[DCC] is a home away from home for them,” says Julie Jones of Carlisle, whose 14-year-old daughter sat locked in a match nearby.


DCC: Long past, longer future

Common theory is that chess originated in India, around the time of Constantine, before slowly making its way west by the end of the first millennium. Chess became recognizable as we know it today in Europe during the Renaissance. The first “grandmaster” title was conferred in the early 1900s, and by mid-century, Dayton had its very own chess club.

DCC was founded in June 1957 by Earl Boen of Illinois Avenue in the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Dayton. The original 11 members first met in Boen’s apartment before later moving to Kuntz’s Café on Troy Street. The first DCC Championship was held in December 1958 and was won by 17-year-old Jerry Fink, a senior at Oakwood High School. As membership steadily grew, so did the draw of DCC’s tournaments and exhibitions. In 1965, having outgrown Kuntz’s Café and moved to the Dayton Public Library at Third and St. Clair, DCC became affiliated with the Ohio Chess Association. Following a dip in membership in the late 1960s, DCC experienced an explosion in interest following Bobby Fischer’s 1972 capturing of the World Chess Championship. Now in it’s permanent home on West Fifth Street, DCC has a strong membership base on which to continue to grow.

“One very special thing about DCC is that we have our own facility,” Irish says. “There are probably only a handful of chess clubs in the U.S. that owns its own facility. Most clubs meet in libraries, malls, restaurants, etc. To have our own facility gives us the ability to do a lot of things and be very active. It also attracts a large membership number from the Miami Valley and from neighbor states, as well. We can host frequent and large tournaments with the space we have. The membership definitely enjoys the feeling of having a club.”

Having an historic building in a centrally located urban environment lends itself to a certain aesthetic while also meeting the needs of a growing club.

“I think our location is great for practical reasons,” Irish says. “We have players from all of the Dayton surrounding communities. It’s a central location downtown. There is also easy access to the highways. Our location is also a source of pride. Chess is a very historical game and our historical facility’s design fits in with that theme nicely. They go well together and enhance the experience. It contributes to the membership feeling part of something larger.”

Members are not only part of a global community, but they are also part of the ever-expanding local community of chess players.

“We like to believe that as a result of the club, our chess club members have gone out into the community to help form chess clubs at different schools,” Sharon says. “Riley’s passion for chess is what led to a home for the Dayton Chess Club, and it will continue to be the chess center for Dayton. … Here’s hoping (praying) the Dayton Chess Club carries on long after Riley and I pass on.”

When considering your own future participation in the game of chess, consider the words of Benjamin Franklin. Himself an inductee to the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, Franklin wrote extensively on the benefits of chess in his treatise “The Morals of Chess” (1779), specifically in regards to the development of foresight, circumspection, caution and persevering in the face of discouragement: “The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.”


Dayton Chess Club is located at 18 W. Fifth St., between Main and Ludlow Streets, and is open 6:30–9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 6:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Memberships for K–12 and seniors are $12 for one month, $55 for six months, or $80 for one year. Memberships for adults are $16 for one month, $60 for six months, or $100 for one year. To drop in for an evening, the fee is $4 for K–12 and seniors and $5 for adults, with the exception of Scholastic Thursdays when the rate is $4 for everyone. For more information, please visit DaytonChessClub.com or call 937.461.6283.


Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and served as the 2015 Chair. She can be reached at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com or through her website at JennerLumpkin.com.

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About Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

View all posts by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and amateur cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and is currently serving as Chair. She can be reached at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com or through her website at jennerlumpkin.com.

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