Weekly games provide the chance to build skills, socialize

January 22—ALBANY — Sometimes it is hard to keep up because hands move wooden pieces quickly around the board. But for some of the city’s better drafts players, the fast pace of the action is perfectly clear.

Since the City of Albany Recreations and Parks Department began offering a Friday morning “Chess, Checkers and Coffee” location at the Henderson Community Center, it has drawn a small audience from experts to novices.

But more than that, the mornings at the Henderson Community Center with games in progress and coffee at various tables provide a chance to socialize and catch up with old acquaintances and meet new ones.

That was the case for Emerson Jones. A graduate of Dougherty Comprehensive High School in 1975, Jones continued his college education and career outside of Albany, retiring as a social worker at Atlanta Public Schools.

On Friday, he pointed out two familiar faces—Henry Mathis and Leonard Cato, who played a game of checkers at a nearby table—at the South Albany recreation center.

“He (Cato) was my neighbor growing up in eastern Albany,” Jones said. “I went to high school with Henry Mathis. He was a few years older.

“I play checkers and chess, but I’m still a long way from being a master. I just enjoy going out and having fun. I was gone for 35 or 40 years. I’ve been back since October.”

Since moving back to town, Jones says he’s also caught up with Angie Gibson, who sat next to him and is a retired schoolteacher working on a book about the Underground Railroad. When asked if the two were high school sweethearts, he corrected: “junior high sweethearts.”

The weekly meetings started on December 17 and were initially limited to people over 55. To encourage participation, the limit has been relaxed and now the only age rule is that students playing hooky from school are not allowed to enter.

With interest from the Dougherty High Chess Club, the town is exploring ways to engage students, perhaps by playing on Saturdays.

And on March 12, the club will participate in a tournament set for the center.

The Southern Chess Club is also part of that effort, said Adam Inyang, part of the recently formed group, which played checkers and a game of chess on Friday.

“When I was in high school, we had a chess club, but we just played against each other,” Inyang said. “We didn’t go to tournaments. I said, ‘Hey, I want someone to play chess with.’ We are now trying to grow.

“There’s really a lot of interest. We have chess and checkers clubs all over town that are excited to come out.”

While there’s no shortage of venues for checkers, especially among the older crowd, it’s a worthy goal to get the younger generation interested, said Mathis, one of the players involved with quick moves on the board.

Albany hosted an American Checkers Championship tournament five years ago and some of the city’s best players took part.

“There are barber shops… under trees; people are playing checkers everywhere,” Mathis said. “I’m happy to be a part of this. I think it’s a good thing for the city to do.

“Checkers and chess are both strategy games. Checkers and chess are used in war rooms. The more young people we can get into checkers and chess, the better.”

The March 12 tournament will be an opportunity for residents to participate regardless of skill level, said Velvet Poole, recreation supervisor for the department. Members of high school chess clubs help beginners learn the game, and more experienced players will participate in tournaments.

“It’s an exhibition/tournament and (for) people who want to learn how to play,” she said. “It’s all skill levels. We don’t want the sport to die. We do this every Friday from 9am to 12pm. That’s all ages, chess or checkers, at no cost.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, get more people interested in chess or checkers to come out.”

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