The simple definition of chess is a board game with 64 squares of alternating color, played by two players who move their 16 pieces according to specific rules; the object is to checkmate the opponent's king.
But chess is much more than just a game. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Chess teaches foresight, by having to plan ahead, vigilance ... by having to keep watch over the whole chessboard ... caution, by having to restrain ourselves from making hasty moves ... and finally, we learn from chess the greatest maxim in life, that even when everything seems to be going badly for us we should not lose heart, but always hope for a change for the better, and steadfastly continue searching for the solutions to our problems."
Because chess develops and improves memory and concentration for seniors in addition to enhancing the ability to predict consequences and building self-esteem, it should come as no surprise that the Traverse City Senior Center hosts chess games on Friday afternoons.
One of the world's most popular board games, traditional chess brings to mind a sense of distinguished history, developed over many centuries. As in any ancient history research, there are several historical origins of chess.
Subsequently, chess is probably the most documented board game in history and is backed up by carefully written theory. The story of chess draws heavily on legend, mythology and symbolism. It tells you about the history of the people living during the Middle Ages, who gave the chess pieces the names they are known by today -- undoubtedly they had trouble pronouncing and spelling the Persian names. The six different chess pieces on the board -- pawn, knight, bishop, rook, queen and king -- represent a cross-section of medieval life with its majestic ceremonies and thundering wars.
The king is the most important, but not the most powerful, piece in chess. The most powerful, much to my delight, is the queen. However, if you do not protect your king, you lose the game.
Although traditional chess has become international in appeal, it has an image problem with youth in the United States. Teen movies have portrayed high school chess clubs as mainly for geeks, giving chess a bad rap with many teens.
Then again, many chess instructors believe chess is a learning vehicle for other life situations. Most people don't realize that chess is not just about analytical thinking, it is also about creative thinking. To be successful at playing chess, the individual not only needs to be able to analyze a situation (those who are good in math and science), but also be creative (those who are good in writing, music and art), a creativity that translates into strategic moves on the chessboard.
Thus, it is this combination of a well-balanced person that makes a good chess player. In addition, chess enhances the player's decision-making skills, as the player looks at the options available and, in turn, the consequences of the actions taken.
Dick Wetters started the Chess Group at the Traverse City Senior Center about 10 years ago. Wetters was the informal chess trainer, instructor and organizer of the Senior Center group. Sam Vorhauer joined as a player about four years ago and took over for Wetters as the group organizer and instructor.
"We play informal chess ... not a timed game; however we do follow the rules," Vorhauer said. "It's a real friendly environment and not competitive. If you want to try your hand at chess, we are very patient. If you have questions about chess, want to get better or to play for fun, join us at the Senior Center."
"Chess is good for what I call perspective switching," Vorhauer said of senior chess players. "The perspective switching concept is a constant change in focus between the immediate task and future planning. It is also a constant switch in focus between the immediate task and a hunt for a better solution (move) ... so, they are constantly searching around and re-evaluating their position and, at some point, they are re-evaluating their own judgment."
Every Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. the Traverse City Senior Center offers options for chess beginners or experienced players looking for a game. All skill levels are welcome and no reservation is necessary. For more information call the Senior Center at 922-4911 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.