Rochester Chess Center survives by teaching, distributing the game
Sean Dobbin • Staff writer • August 8, 2008

En passant is a special capture that can occur when an opponent tries to move his own pawn two squares past a defending pawn. Zugzwang is the unusual circumstance where any move a player makes will weaken his own position.

While they might have trouble spelling each of the above terms, almost any student who attends “Chess Camp” at the Rochester Chess Center could show you what they mean on a chess board.

For more than 15 years, Rochester-area children have spent their Christmas holidays, spring breaks and summer vacations at the center. After the morning chess lessons, they have lunch, head outside for soccer and hiking, and then return for an afternoon tournament.

“It’s the perfect complement to the education system,” said Ron Lohrman, owner of the Rochester Chess Center. “It punishes impulsiveness (and) teaches planning, study and discipline.”

Lohrman, the 1967 U.S. amateur chess champion, was the president of the now-defunct Rochester Chess Club and recalls the heyday of chess in the United States, which was spurred by the enigmatic American grandmaster Bobby Fischer. In the early 1970s, hundreds of adults were members of the Rochester Chess Club, and a chess league in Kodak Park attracted 30 industrial teams.

It was in this time that Lohrman started to think that a chess center could be a profitable business.”Back in ’72, when Bobby Fischer was chasing the world championship, there were a couple of players from the Rochester Chess Club that started a full-time chess house on Clifford Avenue,” said Lohrman, 66, who lives in Pittsford.

“They would run events out of that house, and I thought, ‘Jeez, you know, this could work.'”After leaving Eastman Kodak Co. years later, Lohrman opened the Rochester Chess Center in 1989. But after being open for eight months, he realized he had to start catering to youths if his business was going to survive.

Using contacts he had made in the Rochester Youth Hockey League, he started running beginner chess lessons for kids. Today, instructors for the Rochester Chess Center run after-school chess programs in more than 60 Rochester-area schools.

Chess “teaches planning, patience,” said Ken McBride, a full-time instructor at the Rochester Chess Center. “But it’s funny, because some of the strongest players have the worst attention spans.”

The Rochester Chess Center is also the top distributor of chess equipment in the United States, selling sets, books and chess clocks locally and on its Web site,

Part of Lohrman’s five-person staff spends time on the road, loading up their vans with merchandise and traveling to virtually every major tournament in the country.

Here is the full story.

Kids Chess Camp

Where: Rochester Chess Center, 221 Norris Drive.
When: Weekdays until the end of August.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: $45 per day or $180 per week. $31.50 per day or $126 per week for Rochester Chess Center members. Information: Call (585) 442-2430.

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