Chess players meet their match - quietly

Posted: 10/4/2004

BOCA RATON Chess players quietly hunched over the tables on Sunday, allowing only the occasional paper rustling and chair movements to interrupt the silence.

The 152 men, women and children competing in the 2004 Florida State Chess Championship didn't want anything distracting them. Not when there was about $8,000 in prize money and status at stake.

The annual tournament held this weekend in a Boca Raton hotel attracted many of the state's top players, including some top-rated national players. The competition had to be rescheduled from the Labor Day weekend because of Hurricane Frances.

"There's people here from all walks of life," said Joanne Haskel, a tournament volunteer.

Many players squaring off in the crowded banquet room were children, some as young as age 5.

Gary Robson, of Largo, brought his 9-year-old son, Ray, to play. He said his son takes chess seriously enough to play daily, learn with an instructor and constantly reread his 85 chess books.

"He does it on his own," Robson said.

The same goes for Haskel's 12-year-old son, Jeffery, who also rarely misses a day without playing chess.

The game teaches discipline and concentration, especially to its younger competitors, Joanne Haskel said. Yet the competition can be exhausting.

"I get nervous. My palms start sweating," Jeffrey said. "But you have to tough it out."

As the matches wore down, the toll of playing five games over the weekend, some as long as four hours each, showed on the competitors.

"This is like a marathon. You must eat and pace yourself," Joanne Haskel said.

About an hour into their game, Bill Langford, 52, of Palm Springs, and James Small, 39, of Pembroke Pines, stepped out of the silent room for a quick break.

"It's like mental combat in there," Small said.

Langford responded, "It's amazing how tired you get sitting at that table."

Both men have played chess for at least 20 years.

They couldn't wait to return to the silence.

Leon Fooksman can be reached at or 561-243-6647.

Copyright 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel