On Monday, January 21 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), Hennepin County libraries are closed.
On Wednesday mornings, there’s an island of quiet in the bustling atrium of the county’s largest library, where pairs of chess players silently contemplate their next moves.
Chess Club started as a biweekly program last fall. These days, the program attracts as many as 20 people per two-hour weekly session, and there are usually a couple of matches going. Some contenders linger for just one game – others stay as long as the chess boards are out.
Chess Club attracts an incredibly diverse following, by age, race and socioeconomic background. Some people just stop by to watch a few moves on their way into the library; others accept an invitation to play or sit at a board to wait for a partner. The club is a great example of how the library can bring people together to discover or explore common interests. “It’s been great to be out there where people are,” said librarian Kyle Orcholski. “We’re engaging even people who aren’t playing.”
Library employee John McNeil has helped to keep the program running. Lots of people are familiar with chess, he said, and there’s always someone ready to teach the newbies.
“Chess gives people of all different backgrounds a chance to interact and do something on equal footing together,” he said. “It’s meant to be for everyone, whether you’ve played before or not.”
One recent morning, a young man in a hoodie and an immense bomber hat squared off with a bespectacled man in a cardigan. Regulars exchanged moves with library staffers and other players they were meeting for the first time.
“I’ve never won a game,” Orcholski joked as he settled in for a game with patron Andrew Hoag, of Minneapolis.
“It might be your day, man,” rejoined Hoag, who visits as often as he can, along with chess clubs at Northeast and Walker libraries.
"I meet an awful lot of interesting people,” Hoag said. “Sometimes you actually get to be friends with them.”
Scott Kolz, another regular, belongs to other chess clubs, and often plays online. “I think I’d rather play a person than play online,” he said, adding that while he’s been playing a long time, he’s always refining his moves and learning more.
Chess Club at Minneapolis Central Library is every Wednesday, 10 a.m. to noon.
Brooklyn Park, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, Nokomis, Northeast, Southdale and Walker libraries also offer chess club programs.
Learn more about chess clubs in Hennepin County libraries.