Let's play! How Fort Wayne's chess subculture is growing and using the game to bridge community gaps

Chess has been rising in popularity as a "hip" pandemic pastime since The Queen's Gambit hit Netflix in 2020. But you might not realize Fort Wayne has a thriving chess subculture of its own that's "much bigger than you would expect," says participant Nathan Miller.

While Miller describes himself as "a terrible chess player," he got into the game casually about three years ago after learning about a local group started by Brian Walker called TakeaStan ChessClub. It collaborates with the Boys & Girls Club of Fort Wayne and other groups to engage youth in the game as a way to learn careful deliberation, decision-making, focus, and healthy competition.

"People think chess is a class game, but it's not," Walker says. "It's for everybody."

Chess meets in Fort Wayne are building community bonds during pandemic times.

Last summer, his chess club and another group, FortChess, hosted monthly meets at Promenade Park for about 125 participants. These events culminated in the first annual Chess in the Park event, featuring a talk by national chess standout, Rochelle Ballantyne of Brooklyn, N.Y., which about 300 people attended.

"Years ago, chess used to be really big in Fort Wayne," Walker says. "Now, thanks to films, like The Queen's Gambit, it's really taking off again among the youth."

Chess meets in Fort Wayne are building community bonds during pandemic times.

After joining a few of Walker's meets, Miller was inspired to help his church, Headwaters Church, start a weekly Chess Hour of its own on Wednesday nights at 6:30 p.m. at 2000 N. Wells St. where anyone can play for free. Nathan Miller is a Community Wellness Coordinator at Purdue Fort Wayne (PFW).

"Chess is an opportunity to bring people together," Miller says. "If you go to any chess event, you'll see people of different ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, and socio-economic statuses playing together. We've had homeless people show up and play chess with doctors. It's a rare activity that can get two people who might not normally interact to sit at a little table across from each other, where they're building this very basic, foundational-level relationship."

While chess clubs and meets have been happening in Fort Wayne for years, Miller and Walker are a part of a makeshift movement of local advocates attempting to bring greater momentum and connectivity to the city's chess scene. They would like to see increased participation and awareness of the game and even a dedicated chess space Downtown, and they're working with the Parks and Recreation Department to make it happen.

"Most of the bigger cities have chess parks where people can play that are centrally located, so no one has an advantage," Walker says.

Fort Wayne has a thriving chess subculture.

Alec Johnson, Deputy Director of Planning & Development for Parks and Recreation, says the City is in discussions with TakeaStan and FortChess to add a few outdoor chess tables in parks. 

"We have seen the amazing turn out and response to the chess events held in Promenade Park, and would love to help contribute to the growing chess culture in Fort Wayne," Johnson says. "Chances are good we will see a few outdoor chess tables show up in a few Fort Wayne parks this summer!"

So who are some of the players in Fort Wayne's growing chess subculture, and what are their hopes for the future? We sat down with four to find out.
 

Brian Walker

Founder of TakeaStan ChessClub
 
Brian Walker is Founder of the TakeaStan ChessClub in Fort Wayne.


IFW: Where can we find your group? 

BW: We're on Facebook.

IFW: When did your love affair with chess begin? 

BW: Mr. Carpenter at Portage Middle School taught me how to play in the 5th grade. We had a small chess club. I played a young lady recently who just reminded me that she whooped me pretty good. From that day on, my interest turned into love and respect for the game.

IFW: Your club "TakeaStan ChessClub" honors your late-son, Stanford. Tell us about him.

BW: Stanford Walker had a smile that would light up a room. He was a mama's boy; but I'm that way too. He learned how to play chess as a student at Cornerstone College Preparatory School. We would grab a game as much as we could. I truly miss looking at him across from me. He was an avid sports fan, played football at Snider High School and joined the National Guard shortly after graduating. Stanford was in school studying to become a business owner with the dream of owning an upscale jazz restaurant. He was on the right path, but was taken from us two days before his 21st birthday. 

IFW: What is the mission of TakeaStan Chess Club? 

BW: Our mission is that through chess we will educate the mind to think, not just react. For every action, you have a choice in what, where, and how to move. Chess is a resource we use to educate the mind to strategically think through life's many decisions. 

IFW: What are your hopes for the future of chess in Northeast Indiana? 

BW: Through chess, we can and will build a stronger community. Chess parallels life in so many ways, educating our youth to become critical thinkers and better students. This game crosses all social statuses; it's a fair playing field. The more people who are introduced to this game, the more it will bring everyone together. And it's fun! 

IFW: What advice would you give someone who's intimidated by chess? 

BW: Get to know your pieces, what they do and how they do it. The board is equal. Each player has the same exact pieces. The more you practice you will begin to develop your own strategy. Always remember to take time to think before you move. 

IFW: How can residents support TakeaStan Chess Club? 

BW: TakeaStan Chess Club is growing so fast, but it's a good stress. I really need residents who are willing to mentor first-time chess players. Some of our most vulnerable youth could benefit from learning the game. With our rapid growth any donation, sponsorship, or gift would be very much appreciated.
   

Elijah Paulk

Founder/Host of FortChess
 
Elijah Paulk is Founder/Host of the FortChess club.


IFW: Where can we find your group? 

EP: We're on Facebook and Instagram. We meet at Start Fort Wayne at 111 W. Berry St., Suite 211.

IFW: When did your love affair with chess begin? 

EP: A friend taught me how the pieces move in the summer of 2019. That was the first time I had ever touched or seen a chess board firsthand. I immediately fell in love. There was just something about the way all the pieces moved differently, but are intended to move fluently together that attracted me. When I joined my first club in 2020, I would literally lose every game for about six hours straight. I’m a competitive person, so I naturally took a liking to the challenge of wanting to not only get better, but to better understand the game.

IFW: Who taught you how to play? 

EP: My friend Josh Loya taught me how to move the pieces one day in 2019, but that was only a one-day-affair. It wasn’t until summer 2020 where my friend Zane Griffith taught me how to move tactically. There’s a big difference because I learned how to defend and attack.

IFW: What are your hopes for the future of chess in Northeast Indiana? 

EP: The biggest dream I have for chess is having a centralized chess building in Fort Wayne. When I began playing chess, I realized there’s no place near where I can buy chess supplies. I want to run a chess store that provides that service, but also use the building as a learning center, tournament hosting location, chess-book library, and run a coffee shop inside, as well. 

Also, I’ve had the dreams of designating a specific day of the week (maybe Friday nights) where older gentlemen can come and sip some whisky, puff cigars, and banter while playing each other. I think all three of those things go hand-in-hand. I really enjoy being in a chess environment with older gentlemen because they possess so much wisdom, and it’s fascinating watching it come to life on the board. 

IFW: What advice would you give to someone intimidated by chess? 

EP: That there is beauty that awaits you.  

IFW: Who is your favorite chess player in Northeast Indiana? 

EP: This is a really good question that I never considered. Of course, Indiana State Chess Hall of Fame Inductee, FM Jim Dean. Right here in Fort Wayne, Jim has been very instrumental in my chess progress since almost the beginning. State Champion Braydon Povinelli out of Shelbyville is one of my favorites, as well. Braydon uses his platform in chess for good, which is always nice to see. Some honorable mentions I’d say are Jon Gotz, Nika Arnold, Chris Jacobs, Victor Kay, Brendan Cooper. 

IFW: Do you have any events lined up for 2022? 

EP: Unfortunately, not as of right now. I start my final semester at Purdue Fort Wayne in January 2022, and I’ve come to the realization that chess will have to sit on the backburner until I’m finished in May. It’s a very heavy semester where I won’t have much time for the club. Hosting events/tournaments, club meetings, and running our social media platforms is a tall task. I’ve sacrificed a lot of time doing this for over a year, so I think it’s fair I focus on my personal goals for a little while. I look forward to taking on the task head-on once I finish my degree! 

 

Cornelia Schulz

Chess Player
 
Cornelia Schulz is a chess player in Fort Wayne.


IFW: What’s your favorite thing about chess?

CS: It’s timeless and has no boundaries. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, where you come from, or how old you are, chess is its own language and space. Currently, we have people from 13 different countries playing at our meets in Fort Wayne.

IFW: What type of chess events would you like to see in 2022?

CS: I would love to see all the different events that took place this year to continue: Chess at Promenade Park, Hop River, Junk Ditch, the Atrium, at PFW, outside the Main Library, TakeaStan events. All of them. 

IFW: What advice would you give to someone intimidated by chess?

CS: I lose all the time, but you really get to know yourself. We have four-year-old kids who keep winning. You won’t know how good or how bad you are unless you try. 

IFW: We hear you have dreams of a public chess park on the South side, tell us about that. 

CS: It would be great to have a place that is accessible to everyone all the time. I dream of Indian Village Park across from the Clyde Theatre becoming a chess park. It is equal distance from Canterbury School, where a lot of our players attend to some of the barbershops on the South Side where some of our other players practice. There are seven different food options players can choose from if there is a tournament, and families who come along can take a stroll in Foster Park. It has this super cool brick barn that is just used for storage now and a small brick “kiosk” that could also serve refreshments. Hopefully, the dream will become a reality if the right people get on board.
 

Finley Buteyn

Weisser Park Student and Chess Club Participant
Age 9

Finley Buteyn, age 9, is a Weisser Park student and Chess Club participant.


IFW: What about chess interests you?

FB: I like the feeling of chess, the competitiveness of it. I like the rules and how you play. I think it’s really cool how the pieces move around the board. 

IFW: How was your first chess club meeting?

FB: The first couple meetings were OK for me. We were just learning the basics, which is a lot of stuff I already knew. We have learned how five pieces move and have played a few mini-games. So far I’m finding it a little boring, but I know it will get better. I just can’t wait until we finally get to start playing an actual game together!

IFW: What are you looking forward to most about the chess club?

FB: I think we are doing a big competition, and I’m looking forward to that. I’m mostly just looking forward to playing chess with friends from school.