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Gambits Accepted Here 

by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Spokane City Chess Championship is coming up this weekend. It's time to put some of your chess prejudices into checkmate.

Chess players are so cerebral. Getting behind late in the game, with the clock ticking down ... "it can wear on you," says Dave Griffin, vice president of the Spokane Chess Club. Sometimes, emotions boil over. "I've seen guys slug walls and kick doors," Griffin says. Fellow club member Kevin Korsmo recalls an eighth-grade girl, who, having just lost, ripped up the score sheets and stomped away. "She ended up not being invited back," Korsmo deadpans. And then, back in the '70s, there was the passive-aggressive fellow who'd just lost the Spokane city championship. He decided to steal the winner's trophy. And was never heard from again.

Actually, chess players are nerds. Oh, yeah? Well, Garry Kasparov was in a Pepsi commercial, and Will Smith insisted on playing chess with everybody on the set of Hancock. (Will Smith!) There's a grandmaster from Russia, Alexandra Kosteniuk, who has modeled during photo shoots for Elle and Vogue. (She's much better-looking than former world champion Boris Spassky.)

Chess players must be patient. James Stripes, the challenger this weekend against defending city champion David Sprenkle, notes that "a lot of people who don't play chess say that they don't have the patience for it. But that's a bit of a myth. Actually," he says, laughing, "we're trying to get the game over as fast as possible." One time at a state tournament, Stripes recalls, his opponent studied a single move for 38 minutes. And was Stripes patient? "I got up, drank some water, went to the bathroom, watched some other games," he says. (Stripes knew his opponent was down a piece; he just wanted to get the game over with.) Actually, Stripes says, he prefers blitz chess: three minutes to make an entire game's moves. That way, "you get the thrill of wins -- that's my drug -- but you can also ruin your game that way, not calculating all your moves." In lightning chess, he says, "you get away with a lot of crap and slop." Not so patient, then.

Chess players, having studied Andrew Kinsman's book devoted to the Benoni Defense, recognize that the Taimanov Variation repels the Benoni while providing superior lines of attack and still developing the fianchettoed Bishop.

OMG, they really are patient, cerebral and nerdy.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & ertainly patience and brain power are what's required to succeed at the higher levels of chess. Yet despite Stripes' years of study and practice, this year's city championship remains a mismatch. For one thing, according to current online rankings, Sprenkle is the 12th-best player in the entire state of Washington; Stripes is No. 172.

In round numbers, Sprenkle is rated 500 points higher than Stripes (2250 to 1750). And that's a lot. Stripes is a very good player -- among all the world's competitive chess players, his rating puts him in the 87th percentile. But Sprenkle is well up into the 99th percentile.

Griffin, of the Spokane Chess Club, characterizes Stripes as "a slow, quiet player, not known as a risk-taker. He'll wait and take advantage of mistakes. But he'd better hope they're not his own mistakes -- because if they are, he's gonna get killed."

Korsmo is even more blunt: "James' best hope is to have someone kidnap David before the match."

And Stripes knows it: "I am the lowest-rated player ever to play in the Spokane City Championship," he admits. (He qualified by winning a four-player tournament.) Sprenkle "is gonna have to make a mistake for me to win," says Stripes. "If I avoid mistakes, I might have a chance. But there's no such thing as mistake-free chess. If I get down a pawn, I'll just play on for the experience. If I get down a Knight, there's no way I can win."

Stripes' triple passions involve history (he's an adjunct professor at Whitworth), chess (some of his income derives from teaching the game) and fishing. Sometimes he combines his passions: "Tonight, I'm lecturing on salmon!" And while he won't reveal what openings he has been studying in preparation for the big match, he put in a couple of hours of study every day -- even on a recent fishing trip to Trout Lake. He's the kind of hard-working guy that Spokane loves in its underdogs.

But does Stripes have what it takes to defeat a Goliath like Sprenkle, who can probably glance at any chessboard and visualize the next half-dozen moves?

"Last fall, I calculated an endgame nine moves ahead," Stripes says. "After a forcing sequence, I could see in my mind what move I would make nine moves deep -- at least theoretically. So I had no trouble beating my chess computer on that one."

This isn't just any underdog. This is a man who can outsmart a computer, just like that Kasparov guy! And in a four-game series, anything can happen!

Something like a daydream: Stripes forces a Bishop sacrifice, then promotes a pawn! He forks Sprenkle's Knight and Rook! He dominates a pawnless Queen-vs.-Rook ending! He wins!

Delirium reigns in the Kress Gallery! Spokane chess fans send pawns skittering everywhere as they raise and lower chessboards in their own variation on The Wave.

Chess fans are not about to have their heroes dismissed as mere brainiacs. Because chess? ... Chess is war.

This weekend, be at the battleground.


In the Spokane City Chess Championship, James Stripes challenges David Sprenkle, with the first game on Thursday, July 10, at 7:30 pm at Gonzaga's Herak Engineering Building, Room 121; Games 2-3 on Saturday, July 12, at 10 am and 4:30 pm, and Game 4 (if necessary) on Sunday, July 13, at 9:30 am in the Kress Gallery on Level 3 of River Park Square. Players of all ability levels are invited to compete in the concurrent Spokane Falls Open on Saturday from 10 am-8:30 pm and on Sunday from 9:30 am-4:30 pm, also in the Kress Gallery. Entry fees: $15-$25. Visit or call 928-3260.

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