Jon Hickam began playing a lot of chess with his 13-year-old son Elliot as a way to pass the long days of the pandemic. Once the world began to open up, the duo dusted off their chess boards and headed for the weekly Arbol Market.
“We just focus on multiple ages, multiple ability levels and learning the game together and not necessarily tournaments or super strict rules,” said Hickam.
The group met several times at Big B’s Delicious Orchards but changed locations to Paonia Town Park so younger players could just drop by. The move paid off, producing more players along with drawing in curious observers.
Players can bring their own boards (BYOB) or use several supplied by Hickam. On any given Tuesday during the market, eager players gather at the picnic tables to do “friendly battle,” listen to music or grab some grub.
“It’s been great because it’s a chance to interact with people that you otherwise might not interact with. I had a wonderful conversation with a ten year old kid as we were playing the game,” said Hickam.
Younger players are making their way and finding their place at the weekly games. While some are just learning, others have been honing their skills and using the weekly outdoor fun to showcase some impressive moves.
“We see a lot of younger players show up and they all know the game pretty good. We did have one high schooler who only played chess online, but the chess boards I have are all big tournament style chess boards so, I think it’s a more immersive type experience for players,” Hickam said, adding, “There’s something about sitting across from each other just playing a game.”
While the games aren’t meant to be overly competitive, Hickam said there’s still a sense of pride, “There are some kids who are really good chess players and they get a chance to shine.”
Once the weekly farmers market closes down, the Paonia group plans to continue to meet outside until the weather changes or they may meet up with other players at Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta.
For Hickam and many others, the point of playing a game that dates back to the 7th century CE isn’t to destroy your opponent but rather to foster community during troubling times.
“You know, regardless of your ‘political affliction’ or where you stand on vaccines or any of those kinds of polarizing issues you can play some chess with somebody that may not share those ideas and hopefully it isn’t that big of a deal anyway,” said Hickam.