At Nashua Chess Club, Young and Old Prep for Tournament

Jan 11, 2019

Avni Gauri Nagaraj (right) has been playing chess since she was six.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

The Nashua Chess Club is hosting a special simultaneous tournament on Saturday at the Nashua Public Library.  Members will get the chance to play against an international chess master, David Vigorito, of Massachusetts.

These kinds of tournaments don’t get as much attention as they used to, but Nashua’s chess community says it's ready.

One of the club's members, Bill Anderson, says he's been playing chess for sixty years, but when he sits down to a game, he still never knows what to expect.

"Usually, there are no two games alike," he says. "Once you get into the game, everything is different from every other game you’ve ever played."

At 91, Anderson is the oldest member of the Nashua Chess Club. Each Saturday, around 20 people of all ages gather in the library’s activity room. Some of them like to tease Anderson about his reputation back in the day.

Bill Anderson, 91, says he first got into chess when he moved to Nashua and was looking for a social life.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

"You were sneaky back then," one remembers, settling into a game with Anderson.

"I was much more sneaky back then I’ll tell ya!" Anderson laughs, as he moves a rook across the chess board.

In the 1960’s and 70’s chess was popular in the U.S. Chess stars were household names, and towns would host them for simultaneous exhibitions - the kind that Nashua is about to have.

In these, amateurs sit with their chess boards in a big circle. The chess master goes from board to board, making one move at a time, competing with all the players at once.

"When you played chess, if one of these people came around you’d try to get into it, because they were big names and it was fun," Anderson explains. "And you could say, like I do now, 'I played against Roshevsky. I played against Fischer.'"

Bobbie Fischer was the world champion who beat a Soviet player at the height of the Cold War. Samuel Roshevsky was another chess prodigy.

"I got a draw against Roshevsky. The game was a draw - that means he didn’t win, I didn’t win." Anderson says offhandedly.

Tanmay Dondapati, one of Bobby Drogo's chess students, plays a game at the Nashua Public Library.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

"Did you know that?" Anderson's opponent looks up from the chess board. "He got a draw against Roshevsky!"

"Did you know that?" Anderson's opponent looks up from the chess board. "He got a draw against Roshevsky!"

"Wow I didn’t know that," Bobby Drogo says. "We gotta find that game!"

 

Drogo is here teaching kids how to play. He's sitting across a chess board from 9 year old Avni Gauri Nagaraj, who has been playing for three years.

She's the only girl in the room, and she's proud of it.

Like nearly all the kids here, Avni’s family immigrated from India, known to many as the birthplace of the earliest form of chess.

As interest in chess wanes, many people have turned to the internet to play chess. But Avni says she prefers playing in person.

After teaching a toddler a few tips on the chess board, Avni moves to the end of the table and takes a seat across from Bill Anderson.

For the first half of the game, Avni is winning. But then, she moves her queen.

Bobby Drogo, left, has started teaching kids chess for free to get more locals interested in the game.
Credit Sarah Gibson for NHPR

"Sacrificing the queen?" Anderson teases her. "Wow! Okay by me."

It ends up being a tie - which, the older guys say is a win for Avni.

Avni smiles. She says she’s only getting started.

"I’m going to play chess for a really long time. I’m going to play it for most of my life. I really the game."

As people pack up their chess boards, and pull on winter coats, Anderson remembers when he first became entranced by the game.

"On cold winter nights, if it’s snowing and it’s chess night, we used to go and play anyway. We’d fight the storms and everything just to get to where we’re going," he says.

And he never lost that obsession. The veteran chess players here says there’s just something about playing chess in person that never gets old.

"Wow I didn’t know that," Bobby Drogo chimes in. "We gotta find that game."