Go ahead, Elm Grove, make your move

March 16, 2010

Remember that "Saturday Night Live" skit in which Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri drum up some Spartan spirit by cheerleading at a chess tournament?

Showing their knowledge of chess, they taunt: " 'Cause one thing is for sure: You ain't no Bobby Fischer. Bobby Fischer, where is he? I don't know, I don't know."

(Bobby Fischer, if you don't happen to be up on such things, became the 11th World Chess Champion when he defeated Boris Spassky in 1972. But Fischer left the world of competitive chess for 20 years, emerging to play Spassky again in 1992 in Yugoslavia. The game violated a U.S. ban on conducting business in that country, and Fischer evaded authorities for more than a decade.)

I confess, that SNL skit was the first thing that popped into my head when Kris Woods, a member of the Friends of Elm Grove Library, told me about the Waukesha Chess Club Challenge the group is hosting Saturday.

Two chess experts from the Waukesha Chess Club will take on players of any age or skill level from 12 to 4:30 p.m. at the library, 13600 Juneau Blvd.

"They come to challenge everyone, and they do challenge everyone," said Betsy Haushaulter, who founded the event.

Expert calls Elm Grove home

One of this year's experts is Jacob Kohlenberg, a 20-year-old University of Wisconsin-Madison student majoring in medical microbiology and immunology. He's also a resident of Elm Grove who was a challenger himself almost 10 years ago when he first came to the library chess challenge as a middle school student.

"I remember him coming," Haushaulter said. "… He was really into (the game), even as a young child. He comes back every year, but now he's the one challenging others."

Kohlenberg says he likes the game because it's so complicated, with an infinite number of positions that can arise on the board.

"It's like a psychological battle almost," he said.

He recently tied for first at a tournament in Hales Corners featuring grand and international masters of chess. He also placed third in the Chicago Open Chess Tournament, an under-21 competition.

"I haven't lost a single game (at the Elm Grove chess challenge) in four years," he said. "People can come try to beat me and make it a lot more fun."

Chess skills are life skills

The skills he learned in chess have helped Kohlenberg in his studies. For instance, he's taking the MCAT this semester, a test that requires sitting and focusing on one thing for a long period of time - just like a chess game.

"I can apply that same kind of logic and reasoning to other situations, to look into the future and see what someone's reaction is going to be," he said.

Haushaulter agreed, saying chess can help children in so many ways, such as gaining critical thinking skills.

The other chess expert this Saturday is Gregory Reese Jr., an 11-year-old who placed second in his section at the 2009 Waukesha Chess Club Fall Sectional.

Chess boards for the event will be provided by the Waukesha Chess Club. Participation is on a first-come basis, but once a game is complete, the player must put his or her name on the list again and wait for another turn.

Haushaulter said the experts can play up to 20 people at the same time.

"It's something to see," she said.

Kohlenberg encourages all players - no matter what their skill level is - to come play Saturday.

"It's definitely fun and I love playing," he said.

Take that, Bobby Fischer.

Get in the Action

Line up the pawns: The Chess Challenge will take place from 12 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the community room. Chess boards will be provided by the Waukesha Chess Club.

Protect the queen: Chess players of all ages and skill levels are welcome to try their hand against the two experts.

Questions: Contact the library at (262) 782-6717.

Julie Ann Marra is uncovering the heart of Elm Grove, its people and places. Call her at (262) 446-6634 or e-mail jmarra@cninow.com.

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