Six chess players challenged one competitor Thursday evening, and they knew it was an unfair fight.
The players analyzed last-minute moves as 68-year-old Don Sutherland scanned their boards along the east promenade at the downtown Main Plaza. He inched along two tables, beneath a long canopy, as he played a “Simul,” short for Simultaneous Exhibition, in which a high-ranking player plays several players at one time.
One of his opponents was 13-year-old Andrew Istafanous, who has played chess since he was 4.
Andrew flicked his baseball cap to the side as Sutherland, a former Armed Forces champion, slid his bishop and dispatched one of the youngster’s pawns. Andrew rolled his eyes as Sutherland moved to the next player.
“I messed up,” Andrew said. “That’s what I hate, having a terrible game. I can do better than this.”
Andrew was among the masters, experts and novices that took part in the nine-day, San Antonio 2011 Chess Invitational. The San Antonio Chess Club and the Main Plaza Conservancy are sponsoring the European style, round-robin chess tournament that is open to the public. The tournament will continue through Sunday. Gregg Stanley, president of the San Antonio Chess Club, said bringing the game outside among the masses, for the first time in decades, was a way to publicize the game. He said the competition was still steep on the fifth day of the invitational.
“It’s been a lot of hard, long-fought battles,” Stanley said. “I can’t recall chess games that were so close to the public.”
A player since he was 10, Sutherland said he’s always enjoyed the game that anyone can play.
“You don’t have to plug it in or upgrade it,” Sutherland said. “You can even make the pieces and board on your own.”
Ihab Istafanous looked on as his son, one of the top local young players, concentrated on reducing blunders as he held the game close.
“I’m very proud of him,” Istafanous said. “It gives him the ability to problem-solve and boosts his self-esteem. It’s not violent and not an expensive sport for parents.”
Ernesto Malazarte, a two-time San Antonio Chess Club champion, said he was used to the quiet of hotels in locations such as Philadelphia and Las Vegas rather than outdoors where the rumble of passing buses filled the air.
But the sounds of buses, hissing truck brakes and buzzing tourists didn’t deter Sutherland as he dismissed two players in 17 minutes. He was focused on the game he said requires only talent and is only as good as the last move.
“It teaches children how to make decisions, and they learn the consequences,” Sutherland said. “A good move has good consequences. A bad move has bad consequences. It’s all above board.”