A pair of Valley chess players will compete in U.S. Open
July 11, 2012
By Sebastian Moraga
In a half-empty room, a milestone brews.
Four chessboards are lined up; one of them is occupied.
On one side is Matt McKendry and on the other side is Jim Nelson. Both are chess aficionados getting ready to make history, if only personal history.
Nelson has played chess for four decades. McKendry has been alive for half that. They will compete in next month’s U.S. Open in Vancouver, Wash.
It’s McKendry’s first trip to the tournament. It’s Nelson’s first in 40 years.
While the time comes, they hone their skills every Thursday at the North Bend Library, in a Chess-a-thon that’s open to everybody, even if only a few know about it.
“We average about five to six players these days,” Nelson said.
On this day, there’s only three. Maybe it’s the Internet, he said, but the crowds aren’t what they used to be at the Snoqualmie Valley Chess Club, which meets at 7 p.m., every Thursday night except Thanksgiving.
Still, the enthusiasm never wavers, especially if one-third of the crowd on this day is an energetic 10-year-old, still beaming over a certain milestone of his own.
“I beat my older brother at chess two weeks ago,” said Aaron Lydon, of North Bend.
Lydon said he plays chess because it gives him something fun to do. Both he and his brother have been known to skip recess in order to play a game.
The U.S. Open may be out of his reach for a few years yet, but Lydon has already set some goals of his own.
“Maybe I’ll be able to beat these two people someday,” he said of Nelson and McKendry.
Chess never goes out of style, Nelson said, because the skills needed to excel at it — strategy and critical thinking, analysis and thought — never do, either.
“You can lose yourself in a game,” McKendry said. “You look at the positions, you look at the pieces. You look at the clock, and next thing you know, oops, 20 minutes have gone by.”
Furthermore, it’s an escape. You can think about nothing but the game for hours on end.
“When I start the clock,” Nelson said, “it’s like I’m in another world.”
On this July day, perhaps to psych Matt out, Jim brought his first-place trophy from a tournament in Issaquah. It was another trophy, and another tournament on both their minds, though.
“The last time the tournament was this close for me was in 1970,” Nelson said. “I was living in Southern California and the tournament was in Ventura. I was thinking, “Maybe I’ll drive there every day for a game.”
The tournament last came to Washington in 1966.
“It should be pretty exciting,” said the 20-year-old McKendry. “It’s never been this close before.”
Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.