A Game for Everyone: Humboldt Park Chess Program seeks to draw women, men, boys and girls of all ages

Rob Reid

This past fall, Humboldt Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library launched a weekend chess program intended to draw players at all levels. Inspired by the success of the Lozano branch program run by Héctor Hernández since 1989, the new Humboldt Park program was started by library staffer Jesus Cabrera and so far has drawn a seven year-old child who “played phenomenally well,” a 76-year old man, and two high school girls, amongst others. 

Could this be more of a women’s game?
“In Russia, they discourage it,” Cabrera claims, about women playing chess. “In Latin America, it’s considered inappropriate for women to play chess against men,” he adds. But here in Chicago, Cabrera “really would like it to be more of a women’s game.”

Mentioning a painting in the 13th Century B.C. tomb depicting the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti playing a game of Senet, Cabrera notes that there’s nothing inherent to the game of chess that should keep women away from the game. While most historians don’t believe Senet to be a direct precursor to chess, it does predate the origin of chess by four millennia. And, one would only have to consider Judit Polgar’s triumph over world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 2002, when she was 24 years old, to understand that any question about women’s potential to play chess has been definitively settled. 


Egyptian Queen Nefertari depicted playing chess*

Cookies and tea but “sometimes chicken”
The April event featured pizza and coffee. “I’m just here for the pizza,” a man named Glen stated, though I later caught him sneaking in a game. A few other players showed up, as well as a couple of community members who were there to hang out and watch. Cabrera himself played a game, referring to some of the pieces as “towers” and “horses.” This is what they call rooks and knights in Latin America, he explained. Notably, in other cultures the bishop has been known as an elephant or a fool.


Cabrera noted that while the pizza and coffee was unusual, cookies and tea are usually provided, but “sometimes chicken.” Once the weather begins to warm up, the event will be held twice per month. “I would like the program to grow more,” Cabrera hoped, adding that he plans to call women’s associations to encourage more female participation and also hopes to offer some chess classes to help beginners improve their game.

The next event will be a Sat., June 16 at 3 p.m., in the Humboldt Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library, 1605 N Troy St,. It is open to all ages, genders and skill levels. For exact dates, call the library at 312.744.2244 and check the library's website.

Photos by Rob Reid

*Public Domain 



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