Table For 2? No Waiting For Games At The Chess Center

New Studio Caters To The Serious Player

August 18, 1991|By Patrick L. Hickerson | Patrick L. Hickerson,Staff writer

Sid Robertson always felt compelled to do more with chess than just play.

In the early 1980s, he edited The King's File, a chess gazette for the Washington area. And in May, Robertson, 52, took his promotion of the game even further when he opened Chess by the Creek, a chess studio and tournament site on the first floor of the 2 1/2-story office building behind Fire Station No. 2 on Main Street in Ellicott City.

The creek in the studio's name is the Hudson Branch, which flows on the south side of the building and empties into the Patapsco River.

"Chess tournaments come in two kinds. There are these very largetournaments, which are held in very nice hotels, that attract maybe 200 to over 1000 players," Robertson said. "And then there are very small tournaments held in local chess clubs. Chess by the Creek falls in that category."

Chess by the Creek is as unique to the regionalchess community as is a center devoted to the game. Robertson, who lives in Baltimore and works during the week as a programmer-analyst for Fairchild Space Co. Washington Technical Support Center in Greenbelt, has been searching for groups such as bridge clubs that could usehis site when chess is not being played.

One-day tournaments, scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays through October, are the main sourceof revenue for the studio. The only prerequisites are the $14 entry fee and membership in the U.S. Chess Federation, which can be obtained the same day.

"If anyone doesn't want to play in a tournament, they can sit down and read some of the chess magazines I have laid outor play some offhand games -- even while a tournament is going on," Robertson said.

Chess by the Creek's biggest selling point may be its atmosphere. Robertson stressed that his chairs have armrests, an asset during long matches. He also pointed out the carpeting, lighting, low noise level and free parking.

"If you go to local tournaments, quite often you're playing in an elementary school gymnasium," hesaid. "Sometimes you're sitting in chairs that are designed for fifth or sixth graders. What I really wanted to do was create a better environment for local tournaments."

Twenty pairs of players can compete comfortably in his studio, Robertson said. When the weather permits, a few can play on a picnic table along the banks of the creek.

Chess has been a pursuit of Robertson's since he was a 12-year-old in Newport News, Va. His grandmother introduced young Sid to the game,teaching him the rules through a small peg chess set. He has a USCF Class A rating, which puts him in the upper 20 percent of chess players.

"What I enjoy about chess is that it's a game you can mold to fit your style," Robertson said. "If you like to play it aggressively, you can do that. Or you can play in a very defensive way. Even as long as I've played chess, I still see these fantastic moves that are published in magazines, wondering how anyone could have thought of it."

Although Robertson found business sluggish in the first 90 days, he has reasons for optimism.

"The few that have come through andseen what I have here are pleasantly surprised. In fact, they can't believe it. It's almost like they don't feel that chess players deserve this," he said.

Alan Sherman of Columbia, an assistant professor of computer science at University of Maryland Baltimore County, is one of Sid's regulars. He finds the chess center rejuvenated his interest in a hobby he previously characterized as "occasional."

"It'san opportunity to find chess players of a wide range of abilities and to meet new friends," Sherman said. "It's a unique experience for me. I once visited the Manhattan Chess Club, and other than that, I'venever met a place dedicated to chess."

One of Robertson's concerns was that players would not be willing to travel from suburban Washington to play at his site.

But he now has customers traveling fromLaurel and one from Alexandria, Va., who "said something to the effect that it was unfortunate that I was not near a large population center. And yet he was refuting his own argument -- that people may not come here -- because he comes over every Saturday."

His patrons range in age from 20 to 50, and Robertson is hopeful that more high school students will come out as the word spreads.

Robertson hopes toplay host to the Maryland Closed Tournament in November, and the tournament director has said he might be interested. The invitation-onlycompetition will showcase Maryland's top 16 players.

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