Midland Chess Club provides social space for all ages and ability levels

 When Netflix released The Queen’s Gambit in the fall of 2020, “Everyone went nuts for chess,” says Dexter Brigham, founder of the Midland Chess Club. [Because of that miniseries], the game saw exponential growth.” 
Dexter Brigham is the founder of the Midland Chess Club. and a certified chess tournament director.
     During the pandemic, Brigham played weekly with friend Andrew Fort, and Brigham says he studied the game as well. “I was always curious about chess. There’s an allure. I kept thinking, what does it take to be an objectively good player?” The two then got to thinking, “There has to be other people out there like us.” They decided to publish a Facebook page introducing the club, and in September of 2022, they held their first gathering.

      Meeting on Thursday evenings from 7:00- 9:00 p.m. at Creative 360’s Ashman Street location downtown, The Midland Chess Club keeps it casual, Brigham says. People drop in bringing their own boards, and play is entirely open. He says the club averages about eight boards of play each week with about eight to 10 guys who come regularly. 
    Participants’ ages range from under 10 to over 80, and includes players who know  only how the pieces move, to those working on various strategies or increasing their Elo rating, (a method for calculating the relative skill level of players in zero sum games such as chess - Wikipedia), Brigham says. “We keep barriers low and are welcoming.”
 Cam Taylor (L) & Tom Ward @ Midland Chess Club 
   On Thursday, Dec. 7th, Tom Ward, an engineer with Dow was one such newcomer welcomed to the club. He says he heard about it from a friend when they were working out at The East End. Ward says he used to attend the old chess club meetings at the Community Center and would like to get back into it. 
 “To be good at the game, you have to play . . . it takes time and effort,” Ward says. “You can spend the rest of your life playing, and still be learning; every game is different.” Brigham concurs and says, “The game rewards deep study. You can become as good as you want.” 
    Art Moulter, self-proclaimed “oldest member” of the club, says he’s not that great at it, but just enjoys playing. Moulter, who’s been a Midland Chess Club member for about a year, says he likes chess better than card games because there’s no element of chance. Plus, he says, “It keeps the cobwebs out.”

   Art Moulter (L) is the self-proclaimed oldest member of the chess club.
    Regardless of age, gender, or level of experience, Brigham loves the game of chess; he says it’s for everyone. “I love how it’s called a perfect information game, meaning it’s completely fair. Each player has the same information. There’s no chance to it. It’s entirely a game of skill and knowledge. I love the sense of ownership in that,” he says.
    Another player attending on the night of the 7th was Chris Tyrrell, eighth grade U.S. History teacher at Meridian Junior High School. Like many others, Tyrrell started playing chess during the pandemic. At first he played online, which he says helped with his OTB (over the board) or in-person play.
Chris Tyrrell (R) hopes to start a club at Meridian Junior High.
  Tyrrell says not only does he want to learn new ways to play chess, but he also wants to take what he learns back to the kids at school. He has a couple of students who play chess in his classroom during lunch, and he says he is hoping to start a club in the next year. “It’s (chess) a different challenge. There’s band, there’s sports . . . chess fills a gap for another group of kids,” he says. “It’s its own community but open to everyone.”
     Tyrrell also says the Midland Chess Club is kind of like that too. “It’s a peaceful environment. The games are friendly, maybe a little trash talk, but it’s fun,” he says. “Everyone’s interested in making their opponents better.” Tyrrell also says, “It’s a great community of people; everyone’s welcome.”

      A sense of camaraderie and shared interest pervades the atmosphere of the Midland club. Guys rehash a game when it ends, pointing out things to each other about what went down in the course of play, how a strategy could have been improved upon, and why they moved pieces as they did. This socialness defies the chess stereotype of complete serious concentration as seen in the Bobby Fischer televised tournaments in the 1970s. Although the Midland Chess Club is currently mostly men and boys, Brigham says a lot of school-aged and college-aged players are female.
Dexter Brigham and one of the younger participants in the Midland Chess Club.
     Aside from playing chess, Brigham is the artistic director for the Cornwell Dinner Theater in Marshall producing plays and musicals. He has become a certified chess tournament director through the U.S. Chess Federation. He says this essentially means he has 1.) learned how to adjudicate tournament-rated goals such as, "once a chess piece is touched you must move it,” and 2.) he has committed to having a few tournaments. The Midland Chess Club’s first public tournament was held at Midland’s River Days back in early August. In addition, Brigham says, “I’m working with Jefferson Middle School and Central Park Elementary to have a scholastic, city-wide tournament on Jan. 13, 2024.” Both schools already have chess clubs. 

    The Midland Chess Club is listed on the Michigan Chess Association’s website. “That organization is a nice clearinghouse for chess in Michigan,” Brigham says. “It provides info about meetings [in various locations] and contact information.” He also says there’s an intellectual mystique associated with chess, but regardless, “all of us [in the Midland club] are always happy to teach someone.”


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Amy Hutchinson retired from the Midland Public Schools in 2018 after 32 years at Midland High School. During that time she taught Journalism and English, advised the student newspaper Focus, and served as department head of English and World Language, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, and Assistant Principal. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Central Michigan University and was a Gerstacker Fellow at Saginaw Valley State University. She volunteers for Midland County Senior Services and her church, the United Church of Christ. Amy works part-time at Eastman Party Store. She enjoys gardening, golfing, swimming, traveling, and cooking.