“We are nothing but the best,” said Charles Wright, translating the Latin from the group’s red t-shirts, as the Park Place Chess Club recently celebrated its 12th anniversary at the Vernon Senior Center. The group, while open to anyone of any age, usually consists of between eight and 12 men between the ages of 30 and 80.
Wright has been running the club, and said it began at the Cornerstone Foundation circa 1997, but found a new home at the senior center in 2001. “It’s a more central location, and everybody knows where the senior center is,” Wright said. “It also adds another program to the senior center, for people who know how to play, or want to learn.”
Paul Bartha is considered the group’s top player. “He’s the number-one board,” Wright said. “Everybody’s after him, so he’s got a lot of pressure on him. He brings his knowledge to the club, which makes everybody better.”
“He’s the one we all want to take down,” said member Anesti Nova.
“They say I’m the best, but I don’t know,” Bartha said, humbly, then adding that his record in 2012 was 125-10, although he has already lost 10 games this year, and is around 35-10.
The members of the group learn from each other (especially from Bartha) and help out their clubmates, or offer suggestions for next time.
Bartha was born in Budapest, Hungary. His father first taught him to play chess when he was 10, and he began playing in tournaments when he was 17. Bartha fled to Germany (via a refugee camp in Austria) to avoid the Russian occupation during the revolution in 1956, when he was 19. He brought his love of the game when he came to the U.S. in 1957.
Living in East Hartford, Bartha said he’d looked for a club like this for some time, before finding the one in Vernon that meets every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. “Of course I like it,” he said. “It’s the best day of the week. Every week it’s different guys, and it’s nice to go out from the house. Instead of cutting the lawn, I come here.”
Dave Duttweiler, of Vernon, said he’s been playing with the group since 2006. He said he’s seen a lot of members come and go, including a member who left recenly, at the age of 92.
“What’s great about it is you get great competition, and get to enjoy discussing things – news, sports, current events,” Duttweiler said. Through getting to know each other, Duttweiler found that he had a connection with another member. Duttweiler played chess while stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Istanbul, Turkey, which happens to be where Nova is from.
Nova, of Tolland, is known as the former owner of Kent Pizza, as well as for his work with the Tolland variety show. Nova said he also came to America to flee the war between Turkey and Greece in the early ’70s, and actually started playing chess during a stint in Germany in the ’60s, but he didn’t play for about 30 years, while working seven days a week to support his family.
He credits his second wife, Betty, a Yankee lady, with enabling him to get back to things he loved, like the accordion and writing, as well as a connection to chess. Betty’s son worked with Wright, and after the two were introduced, a re-kindling with chess happened.
“He invited me here, and it’s been 12 years,” Nova said. “We have very good chess players, and we also talk about life.”
“You get some younger people in here,” Duttweiler said. “Everyone contributes in different ways. It’s just a good time.”
For the older set, playing chess helps keep the mind active. “Mental exercise will keep you going,” Duttweiler said. “It helps. We can’t see it, but I think the synapses firing is good mental exercise. It helps to keep you more alert. I also like the variety and the moves that can occur, and the challenges of trying to stay alive.”
“We just like playing, win, lose or draw,” Wright said.
“Chess is a game where you always learn more,” Nova said. “You have to think. It’s not luck, like with cards.”