Ocala’s chess club welcomes newcomers

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Posted November 11, 2022 | By Eadie Sickler

If you’re looking to join a group whose members enjoy exercising their mental prowess in a fun and welcoming environment, the next move is yours. The Ocala Chess Club is seeking new members, and all ages are welcome.

The group, which is social in nature, includes players with various degrees of expertise who meet to enjoy the game and each other’s company.

Chess is competitive in nature, but the members are not playing to attain tournament status, although there are some in the group who have accomplished various levels of success in the game. Group play, they emphasized, allows knowledge to be gained from more experienced players.

Jonathan Sarfati, originally from Australia, has earned the title of Master in the International Chess Federation (FIDE). He has also been a New Zealand chess champion and has traveled all over the world to play in various tournaments. Among his achievements was once battling Russian chess legend Boris Spassky to a draw in a tournament.

Sarfati’s parents still live in New Zealand. He moved to America in 1977 and to Ocala only six months ago. He has grandchildren who live in Bartow, just south of Ocala.

Members Dan Hodne and Steve Kinney grew up together in New York’s Lower East Side and lived in the same building. Hodne said Kinney’s mother taught him to play chess when they were boys. They have been playing chess for over 60 years and are still playing together at the Freedom Branch Library. Kinney’s parents moved to Ocala in 1977, and he came to Ocala in 2008 as a “snowbird,” he added.

Hodne has traveled all over the United States to play chess, once being in a tournament for the Manhattan Chess Club where Bobby Fisher – a well-known name among serious chess players and a world champion, was playing. Hodne explained that most chess players know Spassky held the world championship before Fisher.

Hodne excelled in chess throughout his college years at the Baruch School of Business and at the City College of New York, playing in collegiate and also Canadian championship games.

Several members were not at the Friday meeting, but attendees, in addition to those above, included David Levins, Carolee Carter, Tim Staley and Victoria Kelly. Richard Groh is the club president.

Staley said the common misconception is that “you have to be a genius to play chess. People say, you must be really smart! The truth is anyone can play chess. You just have to gain expertise from playing, and you have to win consistently to be ‘smart’.”

Carter said she loves to play chess because “it makes your brain work. It exercises your brain.”

The group has been together for about five years, but the group broke up during the COVID-19 pandemic and has gotten together again for about a year at the Freedom Library. They report that a larger chess group is in existence at the Main Library in Ocala.

There are clubs all over the country, the group emphasized, and many various levels of tournaments in Florida.

The club meets from 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays at the Freedom Branch Library, 5870 SW 95th St., Ocala. If you would like to join the group, the members emphasize that all you need to do is “just show up!”