Chess Grandmaster Jesse Kraai could face his toughest competition ever at the Sierra Vista Mall on Saturday when he takes on at least 70 different opponents – all at once.
"I think the most I've ever played before was 60," says Kraai.
Each opponent has paid $25 for the right to go pawn-to-pawn with the chess master at the 1 p.m. event in Clovis. The exhibition – that could reach 100 opponents – goes along with chess classes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 25-29 being taught by senior chess master Andrey Chumachenko at the Denny's at Blackstone and Herndon.
Both events are part of efforts by the Fresno Chess Club to promote interest in the game.
Bob Rasmussen, Fresno Chess Club president, says the exhibition with Kraai is a big deal because most chess players can complete their entire life and never face a Grandmaster. They tend to play only other Grandmasters because it's the highest title a chess player can attain. The title is awarded by the World Chess Federation based on points earned in tournament play.
Kraai has noticed that interest in chess has spiked in recent years, partly because there are so many online games. He says he could theoretically play 100, 200 or thousands of opponents at the same time, but he's not a fan of computer matches because they're usually played very quickly.
"Is chess supposed to be played like a video game? It's never totally serious because there are ways to cheat online," Kraai says. "And, playing chess should be very meditative."
At the local exhibition, Kraai won't have much time to meditate because of the number of opponents. But his opponents will have plenty of time to think about their next moves.
Don't feel sorry for Kraai. The Berkeley resident reached the Grandmaster chess status in 2007, the first American to attain such heights in a decade.
Most Grandmasters start playing chest as soon as they can hold a pawn. Kraai didn't make his first official moves until he was 12 and only because a friend invited him to a summer chess camp. Equipped with only a basic knowledge of the game, Kraai went on to do well enough in the camp tournament to spark a passion for the game.
"It was clearly something I could do and it began to take over my life," Kraai says.
Along with teaching and contributing to a chess website, Kraai's using chess as a backdrop for a romance novel he's writing. It's the story of a young girl who travels from the Bay Area to Fresno to play in a tournament.
As for local tournaments, the chess camp Chumachenko's teaching is a way for amateur and serious chess players to tune up for the Third Annual Central California Open to be held here Aug. 12-14 at the Radisson Hotel.
The Continental Chess Association tournament attracts 200 players from around the globe, with past winners coming from India and the Philippines.
Fresno has become the second-largest chess club in the United States behind Marshall, N.Y. Rasmussen hopes both events will spark interest in the local chess club and help the organization continue to grow.
"We have 300 members," Rasmussen says, "and in 2009, the United States Chess Federation named us the chess club of the year and the fastest-growing in the country."