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Club strategy: Recruit more players of chess

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SIBLEY, Iowa -- Jodene Kruse and John Flores share a love for chess, and their passion for the game has evolved into a mission to find other chess devotees and cultivate more players.

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Their first step was to start a chess club in northwest Iowa, and the Sibley Chess Club recently began meeting with a handful of players on Sunday afternoons at the Pizza Ranch in Sibley. Kruse is the group's president, while Flores is secretary.

"It's a club for all ages," emphasized Kruse, who was taught to play by a friend and now volunteers to teach the game to second- and third-grade students during lunch hours at the elementary school in Sibley.

First picking up the game as a teen growing up in Texas, Flores has been playing chess for most of his life.

"Over 30 years," he said. "I started playing right before I went into my freshman year in high school. I played all through my high school years, college, the Marine Corps and ever since."

Flores appreciates how the game exercises his brain as well as some of its other benefits.

"It helps you think," he explained. "It really helps you plan ahead and use your brain, and that translates into other areas of life. It's competitive, and you get to meet new people, make new friends. I've worked with kids for several years now, and I'm a firm believer that chess can help prepare kids for life, but also help kids with their school work in many areas. Studies have been done to support that."

Moving from Mankato to Sibley originally to work at the Worthington Area Language Academy in Bigelow, Flores is now employed at Rosenboom Machine & Tool. At one time, he was a paid chess coach in Texas.

"We taught it to kids as young as kindergarten age," he recalled. "In fact, at the school district I worked for, every campus from elementary through high school had a paid chess coach, and there was at least one tournament every weekend, sometimes two tournaments.

"Down in that area, chess was very popular. There are colleges and universities that offer scholarships for chess. That was something I was hoping to bring to Minnesota when I was living in Mankato, but it never got traction. But I've not given up on that. I'm still looking at doing that in this region, the tri-state region of Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota."

The Sibley club will host its first chess tournament at the end of March in Sibley, date soon to be announced. Flores and Kruse are also promoting a major tournament on the weekend of April 24-27 in Okoboji, Iowa. Kruse was the original organizer for the Okoboji Winter Games Chess Tournament in 2007 and has continued it the past two years. This year, the scholastic section took place during the games, while the open (adult) class was moved to the spring.

"We have a chess grand master, Alex Yermolinsky, who will be coming down and playing in that," Flores noted. "It's unheard of to have a grand master play in the area, and so whenever we do have one, it pretty much attracts all levels of chess players."

A two-time U.S. chess champion, Yermolinsky relocated to Sioux Falls, S.D., from California.

"I found his contact information through the South Dakota Chess Association and called him, and he was very polite, very generous, and very willing to do what he can to help chess grow in the region," Flores explained.

The Sibley chess players are also networking with chess aficionados in surrounding communities to promote the game and area competitions.

"We went to Marshall when they had a tournament there, and Mountain Lake has one next week," Flores detailed. "And those players are coming to our tournament. We're supporting tournaments in this region to help chess grow. The other thing that Jodene and I are looking into is contacting the other Pizza Ranches in the area and asking if they would also host a chess group, either on a Saturday or Sunday, whatever works best. We want to try to bring it local so people don't have to travel that far."

While they seek additional venues, Kruse and Flores hope players of all ages and all levels will consider joining them on Sunday afternoons at the Sibley Pizza Ranch.

"We welcome anyone, children and adults," Flores said. "The only thing we ask is that if children are coming who are under the age of 16, that they be accompanied by an adult. In terms of experience, we welcome any level, whether starting out or a seasoned player, or somebody who has never played or would like to learn. Everyone is welcome."

Despite its daunting reputation as a high-brow game, Flores emphasizes that just about anybody can play chess.

"It's relatively easy to learn," he said. "The only thing that's requires is people have patience."

The Sibley Chess Club meets at 2:30 p.m. Sundays at the Sibley Pizza Ranch. For more information about the club or the upcoming tournament in Okoboji, contact Kruse, (507) 841-0641, e-mail jodene77@yahoo.com; or Flores, feoscacchi@msn.com. The Sibley Chess Club also has a Web site: fiorechess.org.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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