Sunday, June 17, 2007

A visit to the Houston Chess Club

When I arrived at the club for a Saturday G/60 three-rounder, the club's resident master, Larry Englebretson, was finishing up at the demonstration board in front of a group of six club members. A complete stranger, I walked in, took a seat, and listened to him analyze a game between Howard Staunton and Daniel Harrwitz ca. 1851. Great. Harrwitz was a good player but relatively unknown and everyone knows Howard Staunton for the wrong reason---he avoided a match with Paul Morphy. As Mr. Englebretson pointed out, Staunton played very well even by today's standards. I was surprised to hear him suggest that for the average club player aspiring to become a better player, he/she should devote more time to studying the games of these early masters instead of today's modern and theory-laden games. I agree. I think that the games between Morphy's time up to the time of Alekhine, Capablanca, and Lasker are still " understandable chess " ( my term ) and will bear more fruit for the average player than today's abstruse grandmaster games. I have always believed in this idea, and I was pleased to hear it from another.

The club is located at 9000 Southwestern Highway otherwise known as Route 59. The address is situated at the corner of Commerce Way and the service road for Rt. 59 South. Don't look for a stand-alone structure with the words " Houston Chess Club " emblazoned above the front door. It's not that kind of place. The HCC operates from a one-room area inside the Bridge & Games Studio. Much of the office space is set up for bridge and the last door on the right is the chess club.

The club holds two tournaments in the weekends, and one night of instructional chess ( lecture) during the week for club members only. The G/60 is on Saturdays and the G/45 is on Sundays. There were eleven of us, including the TD Mark Dixon, for today's tournament. I must admit that I was expecting a larger place and more players, but I guess the Marshall Chess Club and the now defunct Manhattan Chess Club are exceptions rather than the rule. There, crowds are the norm. The room measures roughly 20 x 20 feet with approximately seven chess tables plus the TD's desk. Chess books line the far wall and a side door gives you an idea of the weather outside. There are refreshments in the main area. On this day, a bridge players came en masse for a tournament and they definitely outnumbered the chessplayers. There must have been a hundred bridge players, four to each table. Again, one wonders why other sports or games attract more people than chess. Is bridge more popular than chess?

Anyway, the chess tournament was well run. I found the people friendly and respectful. As for the players' age span, it went from 12-yr olds to 60-yr olds. You're also allowed to eat and drink at the table. The TD ordered a pizza pie and you pay the house per slice. The club provides the equipment including digital clocks. I was invited to come back the next day, but family obligations kept me from doing so. Altogether, the HCC was a good experience. BTW, I lost my last round game to NM Englebretson and he graciously analyzed the game with me in private and in the most objective manner. Thanks!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Houston Chess Club also has a very popular Wednesday night tournament with slow time controls of 30/90, G/60 - which is well attended with many expert and master level players.

12:17 PM  

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