Friday, February 2, 2024

Chess Club launches at Windham Public Library

By Masha Yurkevich

To many, chess may sound and seem intimidating. Have you ever thought about learning the game but found the strange looking pieces moving over the board, the competitive faces of the players, and the ticking clock frightening? Allow Roger Bannon to show you the game in a whole new way at the Chess Club.

Chess Club participants play a game at the Windham Public
Library on a Saturday morning. The new club is free and 
open to everyone who wishes to learn or play the game.
Recently retired as an occupational therapist as well as a retired veteran, he recently moved to his wife’s home state of Maine from Georgia and has launched a Chess Club at the Windham Public Library that meets there at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.

“I wanted to start a chess group because I love to play because it gives me an opportunity to meet people that share a common interest,” says Bannon. “I’m fairly new to Maine and I don’t know too many people here. But through chess, I’ve met a couple of new people.”

Bannon said that he enjoys the game and enjoys teaching it.

“It’s a wonderful game and it has a long history,” he says. “Chess is a game with no luck involved. The game was invented in 600 AD and originated from India. It is the oldest board game known to civilization. It was a favorite pastime of royalty and those of the lowest socioeconomic level because it costs nothing. A board could be drawn on the dirt and stones or other objects would represent the pieces. The British Museum has a crude chess set dated in the 1200’s, the oldest chess set known.”

Bannon emphasizes the benefits of chess.

“Chess has many cognitive benefits and teaches abstract thinking, memory, planning, and many good skills for developing brains. It is also very beneficial for older people to keep their brains sharp,” says Bannon. “Henry Kissinger died at 101. When asked how he kept his mind sharp, he said chess.”

According to Bannon, some of the benefits include focusing by having to observe carefully and concentrate; visualizing by imagining a sequence of actions before it happens; thinking ahead using the concept of "think first, then act"; and weighing options through finding pros and cons of various actions.

Chess players also learn how to analyze concretely as logical decisions are better than impulsive; they think abstractly and are taught to consider the bigger picture; they develop long range goals and bringing them about through careful planning; and juggle multiple considerations simultaneously by having to weigh various factors during a game all at once.

“Many people go to the gym to exercise their bodies, but how many people exercise their minds? Chess is one way to do this,” Bannon says.

Whether you are there to play or just to watch, all are invited for brain exercising and socialization through chess.

“This is an opportunity to meet people with common interests and hopefully meet new friends. It is a game that is fun to play,” Bannon said. “We are here to socialize and have fun; you don't have to be good at the game and it’s not competitive. Chess can also be therapeutic.”

Chess is an exercise for the brain that can be played at any age. It helps to develop cognitive skills, particularly important in developmental childhood.

Bannon pointed out that chess is a way for children to join a team and get the same rewards as with sports. Being part of a group gives benefits of its own such as camaraderie and a sense of belonging; a place where you “fit in.”

Individuals on the spectrum can benefit greatly in a few ways, Bannon said. It can help by placing individuals in a social situation in a supportive environment. It can “draw out” those shy or socially awkward individuals. It gets people out of the house for a purposeful activity. Perhaps something positive to look forward to. The cruel reality is that those on the spectrum may not have any friends, loneliness leads to depression. This is a way to develop self-esteem and a step toward integrating into the community.

As people age, it’s important to exercise your brain. It is also good for children for developing their cognitive abilities.

“I would like to recruit those willing to teach others,” says Bannon. “Maybe those in the high school chess club can come out to teach those who want to learn the game or improve their skill.”

Those who love to learn and want to get out of the house to meet new friends over a common interest are encouraged to join the Chess Club and bring a board to the library on Saturday mornings if they have one.

“As an occupational therapist, I’ve seen how group and individual activity promotes improved mental health,” says Bannon. “I think we can all relate to activities that make us feel good. It can be in music, arts and crafts or anything you enjoy doing. For me, it is woodworking, that’s my own therapy.”

The Chess Club meets at the Windham Public Library at 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings and everyone is welcome to participate. <

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