Chess at the Island Free Library
The Naval War College in Newport regularly closes its doors and stages “war gaming,” mental exercises that challenge the best in the world to plot and execute military strategy against foes all over the world.
That same mind game goes on weekly right in town at the Island Free Library.
Chess is an abstract strategy game and involves no hidden information. It is played competitively worldwide on a square chessboard with 64 squares arranged in an eight by-eight grid, and is not beholden to age groups. No one gets to hide behind a secret “hand of cards,” everything is out in the open and subject only to personal strategy and glares across the board. The eyes mean everything.
On Block Island that gaming begins with Graham Watkins, a charismatic seasonal visitor who has been teaching the game of chess to beginners all the while challenging the most advanced players visiting the island.
Librarian Kristin Baumann saw a need and a fit in Watkins and found space for him, for which he is grateful.
Says Watkins with an engaging personality, “Chess is my game and I’m currently the Block Island Champion.” But he welcomes all challengers and learners from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays
through Saturday, to topple him from the perch, or simply begin to learn the game that he loves. He has a manner that makes one instantly feel welcome.
Tuesday evening found some regulars coming by. Islander John Foster wheeled in on his bike and wasted no time with the first move on the board while gleefully looking for a reaction from Watkins. He got a smile back.
Watkins has been known to play two
boards at once against two different opponents. There can be a rush and a line when the ferries come in and chess aficionados spot his outdoor set up and want to test their mettle. “I usually let the beginners win just so they’ll want to continue to play and learn,” he sheepishly admitted. Want game? Graham can be reached at: graham.wwatkins@ gmail.com, or simply stop by and introduce yourself. You’ll make an instant friend.