Jan 4, 2022 - Things to Do

Columbus chess scene sees pandemic resurgence

Illustration of a chess piece with the shape of Ohio on top.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The game of chess is alive and well in Central Ohio, with local groups seeing a sizable growth in interest since the pandemic began.

Why it matters: Chess is as popular as ever online and in local schools, parks and private clubs.

  • The game connects players from a variety of backgrounds and age groups in a way most other hobbies and traditional sports do not.

State of play: Our region features around a dozen chess clubs, per the Ohio Chess Association, along with high school teams and various private tutors.

What they're saying: "It's a real cross section of the community," tournament director Lou Friscoe tells Axios.

  • The diverse membership meets for weekly games at the Hey Hey Bar and Grill near German Village, but meet-ups have paused since the pandemic began.
  • Instead, Friscoe holds occasional outdoor tournaments at Griggs Reservoir Park that he says have drawn a host of new players over the past year.

Meanwhile, chess is growing in popularity among younger people.

  • The club at Olentangy Liberty High School in Powell has doubled in size from previous school years, says advisor and assistant principal James Kim.
  • While the popularity of Netflix's chess-themed show "The Queen's Gambit" played a minor role in spurring new players to join, Kim mostly credits students wanting to be more social after returning to in-person classes.
  • "Kids are yearning for interactions and playing board games is a great bridge for students to communicate."

The intrigue: Friscoe, 80, has directed nearly 2,000 tournaments in his chess career.

  • He still tabulates all brackets and results by hand before sending results to the U.S. Chess Federation to count toward players' ratings.
  • Friscoe says he's glad to see such strong, young talent emerge in recent years, even if he prefers traditional play to online chess.
  • "I don't have any fear of chess dying out."

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