VENTNOR — The Checkmates Chess Club is something of a local institution, running almost every Saturday afternoon of the year at the town’s branch of the Atlantic County Library.
Ken Esada, a Ventnor transplant from Connecticut, has been in charge of the club for about 6 ½ years. But it was going on for years before he moved to town, he said Saturday.
Just in his time in the club, he’s seen chess players from ages 3 to 92 show up to compete. Those two age extremes didn’t play against each other, but Esada says it’s a regular thing for kids to play against adults in this club.
And Saturday, Esada — who smilingly denies being the “chess expert” library officials bill him as — sat down for an early game against Peter Kazantzoglou, 11. The boy learned to play at his hometown library’s chess club a few years ago and came back this time after a morning basketball game — still dressed in his hoops uniform, by the way.
Meanwhile, Victor Maene, a 40-plus-year chess veteran, was in a tight game with Peter Pirzov, who figures he learned to play about 20 years ago in his native Bulgaria.
Now both live in Ventnor, and met in a chessboard battle that was obviously absorbing both of them. So, a chess-ignorant bystander asked after about 25 minutes of concentration and moves, who was winning?
Maene surveyed the board and considered the question.
“Depends on how you look at it,” he said, pondering his next move.
Last week, Esada counted 15 people who showed up to play. Maene remembered he was in games that Saturday against one player from the Dominican Republic, two from India and one from Pakistan.
“Ventnor is very cosmopolitan,” he said, and the local chess club definitely follows that lead.
And the club may have found a new recruit Saturday. Mackenzie Morgan, 11, of Ventnor, just happened to stop into the library with her family. While everybody else was looking for books or movies, she was checking out the chess club.
“I play a lot of sports, and it’s very physical,” she said, watching the action and itching to get involved. “Sometimes, I like to play a less violent game.”