What was meant to be a “giant” chess match turned out to be a much more intimate event.
On Sunday, July 22, professional chess players competed in the Coventry P.E.A.C.E Park on a conventional board, and their moves were going to be replicated on a five by five foot board for easy viewing.
But the “Chess Alfresco” players and spectators instead flocked from the intense, hot sun to the welcome shade provided by trees near the arch.
Chess Grandmaster Anatoly Lein, 81, and National Master David Allen, 52, set up on a wooden table near the benches under the arch. The crowd of about 20 surrounded the players so they could see the action.
Allen, a Cleveland Heights resident, has been teaching youngsters to play chess for years at schools around the city, including those in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights district. Now he works with students at Horizon Science Academy in Cleveland, where his two sons attend school.
He said he used the allowance his parents gave him to purchase his first chess set when he was in sixth grade.
“I used to buy things every week, and I ran out of stuff to buy. So just out of the blue, I bought a chess set, and I taught myself how to play from the directions on the box,” said Allen, who is a computer scientist by trade.
He’s passed his love of the game onto his sons Jason, 16 and Jonathan, 15, who are both highly ranked in the United States Chess Federation among players in their age group, he said.
He wanted to talk about their accomplishments, not his own. Then he was called over to the game.
Waiting for him was University Heights resident Lein, who moved to the United States from Russia when he was in his 40s. He said he couldn’t remember what inspired him to pick up the game when he was in his late teens and later play professionally on Russian and American teams.
Steve Presser, who handles marketing for the Coventry Village Special Improvement District and helped organize the event, said he wants to bring chess back to Coventry Village.
Mike Joelson said he used to play in Coventry Yard and in the now closed Arabica coffee shop. The former Cleveland Heights resident is president of Progress With Chess, which aims to "enable students to reap the intellectual and social benefits of chess participation"
“That used to be a great chess scene,” Joelson said. “It died down when Arabica closed down and when they put in planters in the center of the area.”
Craig Bourne, who helped organize the event, also reminisced about his memories of chess games in the area. As he was ripping open a plastic bag to reveal one of the forearm-sized chess pieces, he looked over to Coventry Yard.
“Coventry had some really good chess players … we had a much more diverse crowd up here. Old people, young people,” he said.
Allen and Lein played for nearly three hours when the game ended in a draw, Allen said.
"It was a tough, difficult battle," he said.
Allen also used to play in Coventry and used the space to coach Cleveland Heights High School players back in the '90s.
"It would be nice to see more players," he said. "There were a lot of people (in Coventry) back in the day."
Did you watch or play chess in Coventry Village? Share your memories below in the comments.