WEST ORANGE — Chess, to many outsiders, is a game played in airless rooms and hushed silence by men with flinty gunfighter stares and perpetually puzzled brows, contemplating moves as if the fate of the free world hung in the balance.
Which is why you may be startled by the scene every Tuesday night inside the Katz Civic Center in West Orange.
“You tricked me. Is that allowed?” one player teased another in the tile-floored, fluorescent-lit room where the West Orange Chess Club meets.
Nearby, two players hunched over a board while an animated if not loud conversation took place around them.
Silence may be golden, but you don’t have to pay it much mind during the meetings here.
The club, one of the longest-running in the state, formed in 1978; its first meeting, advertised in a local paper, drew four people. The club has come a long way since then; a four-member team from the club won the World Amateur Team East Championship in Parsippany last year, which landed them on the cover of Chess Life magazine.
Tournament games are “physically draining,” said David Korn, who maintains the club’s blog (westorangechessclub.blogspot.com). “It takes these guys days to get over it. You feel like you’ve run a marathon.”
The Tuesday night games in West Orange provide welcome relief.
Vinyl boards are spread over seven card tables in the room. A book titled “Starting Out: King’s Indian Attack” sits on one table, while at another table president John Hagerty flips through “Secrets of Pawnless Endings,” where the text is in something called Figurine Algebraic Notation.
“This is a friendly club; it caters to everyone from a medium-high level to fumblers like me,” explained member Harry Katz. The civic center was dedicated in honor of his wife, Toby, a former West Orange councilwoman.
“You want to really learn how to play chess, you go to a club,” Hagerty said. “There’s a true camaraderie in the chess world.”
The West Orange club is pretty much a mens’ club; there are no women among the club’s 35 or so “active” members, although one woman is listed under “friends, new members, tentative.”