Two chess masters played all challengers during an exhibition Sunday. The event was sponsored by the Canton, Ohio, Scholastic Chess League, and was intended to increase interest in the game among younger players.
In a game of football, basketball or baseball, Kris Meekins and Oliver Koo wouldn’t have stood a chance.
But for nearly six hours Sunday, the chess masters played a little 2-on-20 — them against the world at Westfield Belden Village in a simultaneous chess challenge.
Moving from board to board, the elite pair played as many as 20 opponents of varying ages at the same time.
“The best part is the spectacle of it all,” said Bruce Wilhelm, chess coach at North Canton Middle School, and a board member at the Canton Scholastic Chess League, which arranged the event.
The league, which contains 49 local schools and 288 registered players, begins practicing next week.
Outside Macy’s, beneath a skylight in the middle of the mall, children and adults signed up to claim a seat at one of 20 boards. When a match ended, the next player on the list could claim the chair and begin a new match. The whole idea of the event was to put chess in the spotlight and attract younger players to a game that requires critical thinking, planning and a knack for problem-solving.
“I don’t know about them, but I’m going out there to win,” said Mike McKay, a Timken High junior, one of a handful of Trojans playing the event. After a hiatus of several years, a chess team has returned to Timken.
Coach John Curry has 18 players on his team. He’s trying to teach them to enjoy the game and play in an aggressive style, which can make for wide-open, unpredictable matches. It’s a style that fits his players.
“Patience is a big problem for us,” he said. “My kids can’t seem to be patient. It’s more important for them to have fun and be off the street, instead of doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”
The matches opened at high noon.
“Gentlemen, start your engines,” announced Tom Peterson, president of the league.
Meekins and Koo made their way around the inside perimeter of an enclosed rectangle of tables. They shook hands with each opponent, then often opened with classic King’s pawn to E4 or D4 moves.
The 18-year-old Meekins is a senior at Lake High. He’s the 2009 Ohio state champion. At age 14, he won $10,000 playing in the World Open in Philadelphia. He’s practically LeBron James around Lake Center Christian School, where Meekins attended grade school. Young players from that school at Sunday’s event wore T-shirts with Meekins’ autograph scribed on the back.
Forty-five minutes into the first set of matches, no one had been eliminated. However, Meekins and Koo, the 2005 state champ, had damaged the challengers. Black-colored queens and other premier pieces of their opponents littered the tables as challenger armies dwindled.
“It’s over for most of them, but they may not realize it yet,” Wilhelm said.
Against players the caliber of Koo and Meekins, a comeback is nearly impossible. In football terms, Wilhelm said most challengers already trailed 35-0. It was just a matter of time until the games ended.
One by one, challengers fell. Matt Steigerwald, a 10-year-old from Canton Country Day School, was first to exit. St. Peter’s fifth-grader Katie Yun fell a short time later, leaving her time to look over the shoulder of her brother, Zach Yun, a first-grader.
By 1:15 p.m., Zach’s match was all but over, too.
No matter his next move, he’d be checkmated.
“Ask him for a draw,” Katie urged her brother.
She wanted to see if the masters would agree to a tie, though a win was assured.
“Zach, ask him for a draw,” she whispered to her little brother.
Zach moved, and Koo promptly checkmated him.
Koo shook the boy’s hand and moved on to the next table.
Organizers kept score on a Huntington Bank-sponsored dry erase board. The two masters piled up wins. It wasn’t surprising. A “master” rating means Meekins and Koo are among about the top 1 percent of players in the U.S.
By mid-afternoon, it was masters 27, public 0. A bit later, it climbed to 40-0. No new games were allowed to begin after 4 p.m. By 6 p.m., it was 60-0, with only one game still in progress.
Clay Wrocklage, a member of the Akron Chess Club, was the last challenger sitting.
He’d lost early in the stay, but returned for a rematch.
He won the event’s last match.
Final score: Masters 60-1.