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PEOPLE : Mind Game : Chess clubs allow players of varying ages to explore the intricacies of their beloved pastime.

October 23, 1992|MICHAEL ARKUSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unlike in 1972, when the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky chess match pitted East against West and inspired a generation of new players, this year's sequel has been a king-sized dud.

Except for the die-hard fans.

"Who won the game today?" asked one member of the Hughes Chess Club.

"Fischer won. He reinvented an old opening," another player answered. As of Wednesday, Fischer leads the series, 8-4, with 10 draws and needs only two more wins for final victory.

Club members immediately debated the intricacies of the game they love. It was another typical Thursday night at Hughes Missile Systems in Canoga Park.

Each week for the past 25 years, players have met to prepare for a mental kind of warfare.

"It's a game where you ought to show no mercy," said John Price, a member since 1980. "You want to nail the guy. And yet you can do that and be friends with the guy when you're done."

About 50 evenly matched players get together weekly in the Hughes cafeteria. The club is open to the public, and most players are not Hughes employees. There is no charge except for tournaments, which cost $8 per player and are held about six times a year. Winners receive trophies.

In recent years, to speed up the games, each player is required to complete his or her moves in 65 minutes. A player's clock is stopped each time a move is made, immediately starting the opponent's time. Any player who runs out of time is the automatic loser.

Prior to the rule, games lasted too long and often had to be adjourned until the following Thursday.

For Price, the delay was agony.

"Once I had to adjourn a game before I went on a skiing vacation," said Price, "and I took a portable chess set with me to do analysis. It tore the weekend apart."

Glenn Tiberio, 42, of Newbury Park, who plays twice a week at Gym For the Mind, a health and chess club in Woodland Hills, said the clock is mandatory.

"Without one, you could sit there for 20 minutes, and then your opponent could make the dumbest move," Tiberio said, "and you're stuck playing the whole game and taking a lot of time. This way, I can play more games each night, and with people who are probably more my caliber."

At Hughes, each evening begins with a half-hour opening lesson about the game. Then, players begin their matches. The room suddenly becomes quiet and play continues for nearly four hours.

"It's considered a distraction to talk to your opponent," said Steve Burkow, a regular Hughes participant.

At Gym For the Mind, the atmosphere is less formal and players are allowed to talk during games. On most evenings, about a dozen compete. Membership costs $50 for six months.

Matt Almond, 24, of Woodland Hills, wandered in a few weeks ago because he couldn't get enough competition at work.

"You can be a junkie on this stuff," said Almond, an assistant for a television production company in Universal City. "I have a few chess games going at a time at work, but I needed a regular place."

Chess attracts teen-agers, too. At Cleveland High School in Reseda, teacher Art Drucker gathers students to play several days a week after classes. Drucker plays with a clock, rewarding students who force him to take longer than one minute to complete his entire game. He rarely loses.

"You really need a big commitment to get good," said Drucker, 57, who has set up many tournaments in the Valley. "But it's cheaper than video games."

One of Drucker's students uses chess to escape boredom.

"I wasn't popular in school," said Wesley King, 16. "I had nothing to do. Chess is great. I love the strategy."

At Hughes, it is common to see teen-agers pitted against more experienced veterans. One recent match featured two highly regarded teen-agers in a tight duel. Only a few pieces remained on the board. As the players battled, the tension built and the crowd slowly began to gather.

"That's another great thing about this game," said Burkow. "Even if two other people are playing, the board is right out there in front for everyone. You can see what's going on and figure out what you would want to do."

Where and When

Location: Hughes Chess Club, 8433 Fallbrook Ave., Canoga Park.

Hours: 6:30-10:30 p.m. Thursdays.

Price: Free except tournaments, which cost $8 apiece.

Call: (818) 346-5959.

Location: Gym for the Mind, 4907 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. daily except Tuesday and Thursday

Price: Membership is $50 for six months.

Call: (818) 710-8042.

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