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A Sheridan chess tournament brings new and old chess players together

A chess timer with the Sheridan Chess Association logo sits ready to be used. Each player has 90 minutes to make their moves, with a three hour time limit being placed on each game.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
A chess timer with the Sheridan Chess Association logo sits ready to be used. Each player has 90 minutes to make their moves, with a three hour time limit being placed on each game.

The Sheridan Chess Association's (SCA) first annual tournament was held on April 30 and May 1 at Sheridan College, which attracted participants from across the country in addition to four international players and two coaches from Kyrgyzstan.

Brian Wall shows off his shirt which says "Check out my six pack" and has sketches of the six different chess pieces on it.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
Brian Wall, a 9-times Colorado state chess champion, wears a shirt showing off his "six pack." Wall won his first state title in 1977 when he was in his early 20s.

Approximately 80 competitors of various skill levels signed up to participate and were matched with other participants of similar abilities. Several high-ranking chess players also attended, including International Master Justin Sarkar and Grandmaster Alexander Fishbein.

Most of the participants traveled from various locations to participate in the tournament, but there were several locals that decided to test their chess skills as well.

"My girl found it on the newspaper [and] asked me if I wanted to do a chess tournament because I play a lot online," said Bryan Donnafield, who came from Big Horn. "So, she said, 'Do you want to play in this chess tournament?' and I said, 'Yeah, why not?'"

Donnafield has been playing chess for a long time, having learned how to play in third grade.

"I haven't really played board chess in a long time," he said. "The last time I did though it was very confusing, it didn't seem at all like, you know, when you're looking at something two-dimensional, you get used to that screen thing and then when you're at three dimensional, it's almost like another game."

Since its establishment in December, the SCA has been teaching the game to young people as a learning tool.

"We have around 20, 25 [people] that come in and we'll run them for six, eight weeks at a time and we'll play chess and try to teach them what we can," said SCA member Larry Mooney.

A green and white chessboard with black and white pieces awaits its first participants of the tournament.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
A chessboard awaits its first participants of the tournament. The Sheridan Chess Association provided the game board and pieces.

SCA has held two sessions for kids thus far and is planning more for the summer if they can make it work. Another session is planned for the fall once school starts up again and is free of charge.

Each tournament participant was guaranteed five games win or lose. The chance to also play more skilled competitors was a draw for some as well.

"I'm really here to learn and enjoy the experience," said Anthony Minichiello, who traveled with three other tournament participants from Boise, Idaho. "I just love playing chess, and you know, I guess I don't have crazy high expectations."

Minichiello is relatively new to chess by his own admission. He said chess wasn't Minichiello said he downloaded a chess app and lost most of the games he played, at least at first. He only began playing with a physical board and chess pieces relatively recently. He said he'd ideally like to see improvements to his state's chess community.

"Idaho's chess community could definitely use some work and some people like making things happen," he stated. "The problem is that I don't think there's a lot of maybe like youth outreach for chess and chess just isn't, it's not really that big of a thing in Idaho yet. I'd like to see that improve."

Alexander Fishbein was also on hand for the tournament after reading about it in a professional chess publication. He's achieved the title of Grandmaster, which he's held for 30 years and is the highest title a chess player can receive only behind World Champion. He also played 25 games simultaneously the evening before the tournament, taking on kids and members of the community.

Tournament participants scout the board to decide their next move.
Hugh Cook
/
Wyoming Public Media
Tournament participants scout the board to decide their next move.

"And I'm from Wyoming, I used to live here, I used to live in Casper, I went to school there, so like how is it that there's a tournament in Wyoming and I don't even know about it?" said Fishbein.

Fishbein has lost track of how many tournaments, large or small, that he's played, but said it's in the hundreds. He and his family immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union in 1979 when he was 11. They settled in Colorado before moving to Wyoming, later moving to Denver where he graduated high school. The SCA also recently purchased a chess library and will be donating these chess-related materials for use by the public.

"We're donating it to the Sheridan County [Fulmer] Public Library to create a Northern Rockies chess repository," said Brian Kuehl, treasurer of the SCA. "And our goal is to have that be a resource available to our state or for people who want to do research on chess."

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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