Chess Grandmaster plays 25 amateurs simultaneously ahead of inaugural Sheridan Wyoming Open Chess Tournament

SHERIDAN — People filed into the Sheridan County YMCA Friday night with bags slung over their shoulders. They weren’t the standard workout bags that enter and exit the YMCA all day long. Many were oblong and rectangular, designed to hold clinking plastic pieces and chess clocks. A rolled-up checkerboard mat poked out of the top of one backpack.

Chess players of all ages flocked to the YMCA to compete against Grandmaster Alex Fishbein and prepare for the first-ever Sheridan Wyoming Open Chess Tournament last weekend. 

Both events were arranged by Sheridan Chess Association, an organization dedicated to enhancing community through chess and helping local youth learn how to play the game, member Larry Mooney explained. 

At Friday’s event, the association set up tables in a horseshoe shape, with 11 players on both of the horseshoe’s long sides and three more on the short end. Twenty-five players, which Mooney explained were selected from the Sheridan Chess Association’s members, the association’s children’s chess club at Sheridan KidsLife and tournament participants, sat in chairs around the horseshoe. 

Fishbein planned to play all 25 players at once. 

In chess, it’s called a simul — or a set of simultaneous games — played by a single player. Before the games began, Fishbein explained the process. He would move around the inside of the horseshoe, watching the amateur players make their moves and moving his own piece in response. Meanwhile, the amateurs would write down both parties’ moves on score sheets. 

“You want to make sure all your moves are thought through,” Fishbein advised the crowd. 

Fishbein would have one advantage, Sheridan Chess Association member and simul participant Brian Kuehl said. Although the players were allowed to choose whether they would play as black or white, Fishbein would be exempt from chess’ no-touch rule, which prohibits a player from touching — but not moving — a piece.

Fishbein also explained he and his history in chess are quite connected to Wyoming, even though he drove from Tennessee to be present at the simul and Sheridan’s inaugural chess tournament. He became a chess master upon winning the Wyoming Open in 1982 and received the title of grandmaster — the top title in the game — in Wyoming in 1992. 

“I’m more honored to be here,” Fishbein said of returning to Wyoming. 

And then, the games began. Fishbein began making his way around the boards, shaking each player’s hand before their opening moves. The grandmaster moved his pieces with a flick of the wrist, quick and precise. 

The simul was really a precursor for the Sheridan Wyoming Open Chess Tournament April 30 and May 1, Mooney explained. Sheridan’s first chess tournament involved about 80 players from 13 states and two countries, including chess clubs from neighboring states and a contingent of four players and two coaches who had come all the way from Kyrgyzstan to participate. 

Richard Shtivelband, president of the Denver Chess Club, and fellow player Tim Brennan had driven up from Colorado for the tournament. It was their first time in Sheridan, the two players said, and they hoped to represent outsiders — non-Sheridan residents — well. 

At least 10 of the tournament’s players were also rated 2,000 or higher — a distinguished rank — by the International Chess Federation, Kuehl said. He attributed the arrival of so many well-ranked chess players in Sheridan to the tournament’s substantial purse, which for Division 1 players with federation scores of greater than 1,600 included a grand prize of $1,600. 

As Fishbein made his rounds during the simul, the amateur players eventually began to topple their kings in surrender. Fishbein signed the defeated players’ score sheets at the end of each game, providing all the players with souvenirs of their match against a Grandmaster.