Main Street Gambit 

Downtown chess tourney hopes to add urban feel.

Power struggles on Salt Lake City’s Main Street are nothing new. But for once, they’re a welcome element. These new battles that can be fought and solved within 30 minutes, without involving the state Supreme Court or land swap deals.


Welcome to Chess on Main 2003.


An event that hopes to enjoy an annual presence in downtown Salt Lake City, Chess on Main is a chess tournament conceived, sponsored and governed by Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. With support from the Downtown Alliance and the city, the tournament hopes to attract high-level participants—and local interest.


Based on the response so far, Dennis Evans of Sam Weller’s is optimistic about the inaugural tournament. “It’s in the early days yet, but we have had a large number of inquiries,” he explains. “We’ve even had to reprint our initial registration materials—and a fair number have already paid their fees and are ready to go. We need and hope for a very large response.”


Despite backing from the city—most notably with its recent installation of four permanent game tables in front of the store—Evans says Chess on Main 2003 is primarily a Sam Weller thing.


“The bookstore is putting up over $1,000 in cash and gift certificates to the winners. We are carrying all the ad costs, as well as the T-shirt production and administrative expenses,” Evans notes. “But, the mayor’s office has graciously come up with chess sets and timers and sent out press releases through their media outlets.”


It should be noted that Mayor Rocky Anderson will play another role in Chess on Main 2003, by inaugurating the tournament at noon on July 7. More important, however, is what level of participants the tournament will attract.


“There are several state-ranked players who have signed up; one of our employees administering the event is ranked in the state,” Evans says. “But Chess on Main 2003 is for players of all ages and mastery levels. We have a scholastic division for players under 13 years of age; an adult division for players of all ages; and a championship division for the most confident players—again, there’s no age limit on that division either.”


The Salt Lake City chess-playing community appears ready to dive into the Main Street event. “We’re all in favor of everything that promotes the royal game,” notes Grant Hodson of the Utah Chess Association. “I’ve talked with several strong players who have showed interest [in Chess on Main] ... Chess players appreciate the challenge of a good event.”


Though a non-rated, non-U.S. Chess Federation tournament, competitive play will involve the Swiss pairing system, meaning each participant will compete in a total of six matches. Win or lose, each participant will walk away from the tournament with a Chess on Main 2003 T-shirt for his or her registration fee.


Even to the non-chess enthusiast, the tournament—and Main Street’s new chess table facilities—is a subtle sign of progress for the city, bringing renewed interest to the downtown area.


“We very much support Mayor Anderson’s initiatives aimed at enhancing the Main Street environment,” says Evans. “We have made it a point to augment his efforts in that regard with events and strategies which will make Main Street a more interesting place to visit generally.


Of course, there’s more than increased foot traffic to inspire those like Evans.


“I lived several years in New York, five years in Miami and almost a decade in Europe. The street life and activity in New York and large, world-class cities has very much inspired Chess on Main 2003. In major cities one also sees the street or park chess players. We want that for Main Street, too.”


Ultimately, Evans envisions a Salt Lake City that has more in common with European or East Coast cities, where people actually live and enjoy life right on Main Street, where downtown is the place to be and to be seen.


“It (the tournament) all adds to the effort,” Evans says. “I think it is wrong to think that one event or policy will turn downtown around ... lifestyles and habits must also change.”


Taking tournament chess play outside its usual academia or coffeehouse setting in Utah and making it a spectator sport is a bold gambit. Planners are hopeful but admit Chess on Main’s prospects for becoming a yearly tradition remain to be seen.


Until that time, let the games begin.

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Ed Richards

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