Ever since Kenneth Esada moved from Connecticut to Ventnor in 2009, he could be found at the Atlantic County Library's Ventnor branch. Most days, he could be found reading the daily newspaper or sitting by a computer.
But every Saturday afternoon, it's all about him, a chessboard and any opponent who might walk through the library's double doors.
In the summer of 2010, Esada, 65, was given the reins of the chess club after Brigantine resident Ed McCourt dropped out.
"He turned over the chess set to me and said, 'Well, you're in charge now.' That was it. I was surprised and disappointed to see him go, but I was happy to do it and I'll continue to try and do it."
While Esada notices the program's popularity increases during the summer months, he unfortunately notices high distraction levels and lack of interest in many of his young students. School schedules and sports and clubs don't help the situation, he said.
However, the leader, very quiet and modest of his talent, would love to see the formation of a chess team.
"(It) would be an ideal thing, just seems like a remote possibility," he said.
Kim Strenger, the library's child and teen librarian, received an email years ago from an Atlantic City chess team inquiring about playing Ventnor players.
"We don't have a team. We started really pushing it as an alternative children's activity," she said, with hopes of creating a steady group.
January and the rest of the winter months tend to see far fewer students, each week its attendance differing. The program, advertised for children of all ages, is actually offered to any chess player, despite age or skill level.
"Youngest person I had was a 4-year-old girl, and I played in the summer with a retired dentist that was 92-years-old," he said.
Strenger, who considers Esada a regular, helps promote chess lessons as a children's library program, but knows he won't exclude anyone.
"It can be anyone. Ken is very patient," Strenger said. "He always finds somebody to play with, but he would love to teach kids to do this."
Dec. 29 brought a family, including a 10-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy. The next Saturday, four men ages 54 to 79 trickled in to play the classic game.
The chess scene in the Downbeach area was once thriving, said Steve Thonus, 54, of Ventnor. Serious players took their turn at tournaments, but as the crowd grew older and schedules became hectic, the club died out for more than a decade.
"I try and be here as much as I can," Thonus said, attempting to keep the strategic game alive. The Ventnor resident has been playing the game since he was 4 years old - a threat amongst the older group that day.
"He can play us four at the same time and beat us all," laughed Ron Christopher, 68, of Atlantic City.
Christopher used the analogy of the military to explain the game to newcomer George Poggioli, 69, of Somers Point - pawns are like soldiers and strategy is required to determine when to attack, he said.
"It's the only game in the world where luck is not a factor," he continued.
Poggioli, a retired Caesar's Atlantic City worker, recalled watching co-workers play on breaks and he would simply sit and watch.
"No one wanted to take the time to give instruction," he said, as Christopher set up the pieces on the grid.
Luckily for Poggioli, and anyone else up for a challenge, Esada and his friends are willing to teach. And the benefits of the game help keep Esada around, regardless of the turnout.
"It's a very mind challenging game and it takes my mind off of everything else in world. Chess becomes my world at that point," the retired financial analyst said. "For myself, it's a great way to keep the mind sharp. When you're playing you can't really think of anything else in the world you have to concentrate on that."
To learn more, call the Ventnor library branch at 609-823-4614.
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