'The kids actually love playing': Saskatoon sees rise in chess players

Members of the Saskatoon chess community play friendly tournament at Mystic Java on Fourth Avenue on Nov. 15, 2019. (Joseph Bernacki/CTV Saskatoon)

SASKATOON – The royal game is making a comeback across the City of Bridges.

"Chess is an amazing game, that's all there is to it," competitive chess player Jason Danner said.

Over the past several years, he has become a key advocate to bring interest to both the Bridge City Chess Club and Saskatoon Chess Club. After a few dark years of only a few members participating, Danner said people are eager to become chess masters.

The Bridge City club was founded in 2017. Both clubs meet at Mystic Java locations in the city to organize competitive and friendly tournaments.

"Well it really comes down to more opportunities to play," Danner said. "There's been a bunch of us that wanted to get better and the clubs have been active and kids have been coming out so now people see it. When people want to play, there's people like me and my friend Ryan here, and the owner of Mystic Java that want to host us."

Danner has worked with Mystic Java for 10 years to host chess club events in the city and remains a member of both clubs.

Mark Linnick, a friend and competitor of Danner, participates in chess tournaments across western Canada - most recently in the Banff Open in Alberta with close to 80 competitors from Canada and the United States.

"We ended up having 10 or 12 guys from Saskatoon going," said Linnick. "Banff is one of the premiere tournaments in western Canada and nothing beats when you're in the playing hall with big glass windows and you look out and see the mountains behind you, it's a very calming and surreal experience."

The more Linnick plays, the more he has found the game can improve the player’s logic and reason, he said. The game also helps build connections across the country, he said.

"I could go to a different place in Canada for a chess tournament and I know people there and they'd be like 'come stay with me', it's kind of this bonding thing where it's you get so much more from just the actual game itself.

"There's so much to offer, there's so much that chess can offer you like critical thinking skills, an ability to develop logical plans, but it's more so that social connection while doing those things that I think is important."

Linnick also belongs to both clubs and works as a chess coach to help expand the game across Catholic high schools in Saskatchewan. The program is catching on, with 55 members joining the Holy Cross Chess Program this year alone.

"Oh it's crazy man, lately kids are so much into it," said Bridge City vice president Benny Oracion.

"Five years ago chess was dead, honestly there was nothing much going on. It's because of the different kind of setup we're playing with there.

"The bullets, the speed chess is what we call it, the rapid chess. The kids actually love playing. Over the next couple of months we're actually looking to work with the Bethlehem and Tommy Douglas high schools."

Oracion said the Bridge City Chess Club has expanded its membership to have over 120 players with 60 of those being official members.

Danner has found the Saskatoon Chess Club has climbed from 15 members between 2009-2016 to 45 this year.