Photo by Dermot Connolly
Club tournament director Alex Connelly explains his move to Christopher Harrison, 11, while other members of the South Suburban Chess Club play alongside them during a Friday meeting at the Oak View Community Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn.
By Dermot Connolly
Members of the South Suburban Chess Club can be found most Friday evenings quietly matching wits with each other across their checkered boards in their headquarters in the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn.
But the club, sometimes called the Oak Lawn Chess Club, has been making some noise in regional competitions in recent years, with two teams competing In the Chicago Industrial Chess League.
Wayne Ellice, of Oak Lawn, now leads the club, which meets from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday. It was formed in 1994 by Fred Gruenberg and other following the closing of the Orland Park Chess Club, which originally met in Palos Heights. Members pay $10 annual dues.
Club members range in age from 11 up to over 80 years old, and their skill levels vary. From beginners to intermediates and experts. Most Fridays, if there is no tournament going on, they just pair up and playing games, chatting back and forth about various strategies over snacks.
But last Friday, eight members accepted national chess master Todd Freitag’s offer to play them all at once. Freitag, 35, a Palos Park resident and member of the group himself, is one of just 1,000 chess masters in the United States. He said he has been playing the game since his days in the chess club at Sandburg High School, and earned the master title by winning a certain amount of regulation games.
“Chess is a good community of folks,” said Ellice. “Players come from all walks of life, from Chicago and the suburbs. Some people take it really seriously, while others just play for fun.”
“Chess helps you with all of life’s challenges,” added Ellice. “Among other things, it teaches you to think several steps ahead, and be responsible for your actions, because once you make a move, you can’t take it back.”
Freitag moved quickly from chessboard to chessboard set up on three tables, making his move as soon as his opponents’ made theirs. He ended up winning seven of the matches, and drawing with Adrian Zolkos, one of the most experienced members of the club. And Ellice pointed out that the club members playing him weren’t beginners.
He said that the club’s two teams, the Wombats and the Pawns, finished first and second, respectively, in the West Division of the Chicago Industrial Chess League concluded its playing season in July. The League includes 20 teams, coming from communities as well as companies such as Fermilab in Batavia.
The Wombats took second place in the whole league in 2012, and won the CICL championship in 2014. Under its previous name, the Yorktown Wildcats, the team also were co-champions in 2010 also.
The club gained some international experience this year also, after member Eva Harrison arranged a tournament with a chess club in her hometown of Salzkotten, Germany. “I used to play a lot when I was growing up in Germany,” she said, explaining that she got back into the sport when her children started playing it in school. She, Ellice and Freitag, along with fellow members Vasyl Kukuruza, Marty Franek, Eric Mendenhall, Joe Sinople, Jim Nowak, Steve Russo and Jose Garza, played 10 people from Salzkotten. At one move per week, the 10-board match finished with the Oak Lawn team winning eight, and drawing two games.
“The main thing is, we weren’t beaten,” she said.
Harrison’s son, Christopher, 11, has joined the group now too. On Friday, while the eight tournament games were going on, Christopher was playing against club tournament director Alex Connelly, of Oak Lawn, and picking up tips along the way. Connelly assists Ellice in running the club.
“We have a lot of space in this room, so while tournaments are going on, there is always room for “open play,’ too,” said Ellice. “We have about 40 members but there are always room for more,” he added.