You may have heard the saying that goes: While you may be playing checkers, your opponent might be playing chess. That comparison between games often means that someone is thinking or competing at a less thorough or skilled way than someone else. In the popular family-room mind, checkers is often seen as the easier game than the more complex game of kings and queens.
That’s especially true in the United States where very little press covers chess, rendering it to the annals of a few game stores and the stigmas about its participants as nerdy, brainiacs that are on another mental level than the rest of us. And that’s especially true among the blindness community where chess is advertised along with Connect Four, Scrabble, and Uno as being played at the dinner table, not in the parlans of known sports like basketball or football.
Yet, did you know that in chess, the United States has three of the top players in the world? Our best player, Fabiano Caruana challenged the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen, back in 2018.
Of course, this feat didn’t garner the attention that Bobby Fischer’s defeat of Boris Spasky did in 1974 when the United States had its first chess champion in decades. Still, Caruana’s accomplishments did inspire a lot of kids and adults to take up the game of chess during the era of the pandemic when we were all masking up and sheltering in place for far too long.
People who are blind and low-vision have organized correspondence and over the board chess events here in the United States since the late 1960s. Back then, players sent their moves to one another on postcards or called each other on the phone to play games. Some of our players teamed up in an international event for blind players before officially forming the United States Braille Chess Association. Since then, we have changed Braille to Blind while the acronym, USBCA still remains.
One of our first standout players was Al Sandrin. He’d been one of the United States’ top master level players before he went blind. Then, afterwards, he participated in USBCA events along with keeping up his play in top level sighted events. You can read more about him here. Other more recent winners of the over the board tournament include the Late Joe Kennedy, Jeff Siebrandt, Alex Barrasso, Henry Olynik, Mike Davis, Al Pietrolungo, and Jim Thoune. . Most recently, Jessica Lauser became the first woman to win our over the board annual tournament. The linked article tells of her journey to chess prominence.
You, too, can join us at this year’s annual over-the-board tournament which will be held in the Chicago suburbs on the Elmhurst College campus. There’s no need to wonder if you aren’t rated high enough or if new players can come. Anyone at any skill level is welcome at our over-the-board tournament about which you can read on our website.
While some of us who play in the USBCA are active competitors against sighted counterparts, many of us are not. We are a group of people who love the game and enjoy finding time for competition against each other while making new friends.
Of course, finding an adapted chess set-replete with tactile board and pieces-may seem to be a challenge for some and it’s not always cheap. Yet, if you go to the Braille Super Store, to Maxiaids, or to Chess Baron, you can purchase sets of varying quality and prices.
To further remove the mystique of chess as a game for just the brainy, join in with us and mix it up on Usbca_chessfirstname.lastname@example.org. In short, we are a community of beginners to the Olympic hopeful learning from and teaching one another.
As one of our USBCA past presidents often said: Yes, blind people can and do play chess. So set up those pieces and board for a game…and more!