As classic event-food combos go – baseball and hot dogs, movies and popcorn, carnivals and cotton candy – the tandem of chess and ice cream doesn’t come close to making the list.
No one thinks of spectators eating sundaes while watching Bobby Fischer play the world’s cerebral game, nor is there any photo on record of Fischer celebrating a hard-fought world championship with a thick malt.
But chess and ice cream have always indirectly gone together at Oberweis Dairy, and last week in Skokie, they were directly tied together.
In a corner of That Burger Joint, the restaurant that is part of Oberweis at 4811 Dempster St., two skilled players took on all comers. Any customers who stepped up to the challenge were given a chance to win a free dinner with a victory or a sweet treat with a draw. (Just getting in the ring earned a customer a free ice cream cone).
Asked whether these customers really had a chance to pull off an upset and enjoy dinner on the house, Sevan Muradian, the brains behind the promotion, discreetly answered, “As much chance as you have to marry Heidi Klum.”
But early in the evening, Ms. Klum reluctantly began shopping for a wedding dress, when a challenger looked like he could topple Whitney Young High School chess champ Sam Schmakel.
Schmakel, 16, a national master, and Mesgen Amanov, 26, of Glenview, a grand master, played blitz chess at a disadvantage under the terms of the promotion. They had less time to make moves than their opponents.
Duncan Shepherd, 17, of Lake Forest, took advantage of Schmakel’s handicap and landed a stalemate.
Although he thought a better player might have been able to win, he was satisfied with the draw, even if his free dinner slipped away.
“He messed up his opening move badly, so it was possible to win, but this is still good,” he said, holding a thick, green shake, his dessert prize.
Christopher Girardo of Libertyville had played Amanov several other times without success, and was in good position against him this night. But Amanov recovered and took away Girardo’s prospects for a major upset.
Fan Yang, 17, of Northfield, also was shot down by Amanov after an intense match.
“I thought I had a chance at a draw as I was playing, but I just wasn’t able to do it,” he said.
Amanov came from Turkmenistan, where he learned to play chess skillfully and ultimately became a grand master.
Schmakel began playing chess when he was only 5 or 6. He saw a couple of kids playing at the YMCA, liked how the pieces moved and took up the game. The rest is history – at least for Whitney Young High School, which won the state championship this year with Schmakel as the top player.
“The time disadvantage was hard to deal with at first, and it was kind of nerve-wracking,” Schmakel said. “But this event is cool and it’s good for chess.”
What’s good for chess is always what Muradian is all about.
He operates the North Shore Chess Center in Skokie, which provides chess classes for all ages and skill levels. His center, unique in the area, also showcases chess with a variety of events and with experts regularly giving talks and demonstrations.
Both Amanov and Schmakel played chess at the center for the Chicago Blaze, the center’s former team in the U.S. Chess League. (The Blaze quit the league last season over differences regarding the league’s future).
Then there is the Oberweis family, which has always had a passion for chess. When their store opened last year in Skokie, a synergy between Muradian and Oberweis – between chess and ice cream – seemed inevitable.
“The Oberweis family has a very long and rich tradition in chess,” Muradian said in front of a camera he used to live-stream last week’s event. “You walk into any Oberweis around the area and you’ll always see chess sets there.”
In fact, Muradian later noted, Jim Oberweis’ daughter, Julie, was one of the stronger women chess players in state history and eventually married an international master.
Muradian met with Jim Oberweis and kicked around ideas for a chess promotion before landing on last week’s “beat-the-champs” event.
It’s doubtful that this was the final chess game at Oberweis. Though the competition is over, the tables remain, and you can count on the chess-ice cream combo having a few more moves to be played in Skokie.
Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar