Opening Day: Chicago Blaze launch chess season in Skokie
Chicago Blaze chess player Eric Rosen, 18, faces off on-line against the Seattle Sluggers Wednesday at the North Shore Chess Center. Rosen won his game. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2011 12:59PM
If this had been opening day at Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field, the home team would have been credited with a shellacking, an explosive launch to the season ahead.
Wednesday’s opening night for the Chicago Blaze at the one-year-old North Shore Chess Center in Skokie pitted four of the team’s 10 chess players against four members of the Seattle Sluggers.
For hours, the players looked over laptop computer screens and exchanged moves with their opponents who presumably were gathered in a similar room in Seattle. In the end, three Blaze members won their games and one drew to a tie leaving the final score 3.5-.5 in favor of — as partisan White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson might say — “the good guys.”
The analogies to baseball’s opening day are easy to make when one team is called the Sluggers and when dignitaries such as Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen and Trustee Randy Roberts attend to kick off the new season.
The mayor even “threw out” the opening move on one of the chess boards, making a symbolic start to the season as players and others applauded.
The Chicago Blaze have been around for three years now, an expansion team of the United Chess League and one of 16 chess teams competing for 10 weeks during the regular season.
Half of the 16 teams make the playoffs. Compiling a 6-4 record last year, the Blaze enjoyed post-season play for the first time in 2010, but bowed out quickly in the first round.
This year, the team is determined to make the playoffs again and have a longer post-season run.
“We’re eager and ready,” said Sevan Muradian, owner of The North Shore Chess Center and one of several who put the team together and manages it. “This year, we’re going for blood.”
The Blaze began its existence playing games at the Holiday Inn its first two years, recording 4-6 records for each of them and failing to make the playoffs. When the Blaze was created, the center was but “a pipe dream” for Muradian.
After one match at the Holiday Inn to start the team’s third season last year, the Blaze moved permanently to the North Shore Chess Center. For the first time, team uniforms were handed out Wednesday — white golf shirts adorned with the team logo.
Beside each small computer screen was a large chess board where players could move pieces while competing on-line to get a better study of their games. But not every player used the physical board. Huge television screens installed on walls allowed visitors to check in on matches.
The Chicago Blaze includes players ranging in age from 15 to more than three times older. Wednesday’s four-man lineup included Grand Master Dmitry Gurevich, International Masters Florin Felecan and Angelo Young and National Master Eric Rosen.
Rosen, 18, a Skokie resident, won the National K12 Championship at the U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) tournament last year. This marks his third year on the team.
A remarkable chess player, Rosen showed an unusual prowess for the game at an early age. He said Wednesday that playing by computer is a different experience than his many face-to-face matches.
“It’s a lot different not seeing your opponent over the board,” he said just before his game began.
While playing on-line is less nerve wracking because a player doesn’t have to see his opponent up close, it’s also easier to be careless, Rosen said. “It hardly ever happens where you have a competitive event that you play on-line like this.”
When the season-opening matches began Wednesday, silence enveloped the room, each of the four players peering intently at their screens, contemplating their next moves. One player jiggled his leg feverishly as he looked over the board.
Rosen appeared calm throughout the match, sometimes resting his head in his hand, pulling back his hair and zeroing in on the illuminated screen.
“He’s always had a great focus,” said his mother, Andi Rosen. “He doesn’t get it from (his parents). But he’s pretty calm no matter what the situation.”
His father, Brad Rosen, one of seven who manage the team, said that having the Blaze in Skokie is a good experience for his son, but also for the community.
“Having the Chicago Blaze here promotes chess in the entire community,” he said. “That’s always the goal. It’s great to have a competitive team regularly playing games here.”
If you’re looking for the Casey Stengel or Billy Beane of the Chicago Blaze, look no further than Daniel Parmet, the general manager.
He decides who plays, rotating his 10 players and looking for the best lineup every week.
“Some pitchers have a certain batter’s number,” Muradian explained. “They know they can throw anything they want at him and that batter is going to swing. It’s just like that.”
Parmet apparently put out a near-perfect lineup Wednesday resulting in a convincing win. The Blaze believe it’s the beginning of more to come.
Muradian said this year’s Blaze has shored up some holes from previous years. About 50 percent of team is new including Yury Shulman, a champion player who was on St. Louis last year.
Think of Albert Pujols coming to the Cubs.
“We convinced Yury this year to play for us but how we did that are trade secrets we can’t divulge,” he said with a sheepish grin.
Last year, an upstart expansion team from New England won in its first year in the league while the Blaze tasted playoff chess for the first time — albeit briefly.
“If they can do it in New England, there’s no reason we can’t do it here,” Muradian said. “We want this year at the Chess Center to surpass last year. That would entail a championship for the Chicago Blaze.”
For more information about the Chicago Blaze, access www.chicagoblazechess.com.