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Playing pawn, queen, king for a day

Two students sat across each other, faces intent. They concentrated on the black and white pieces in front of them, thinking of future strategy - thinking of chess.

Every Thursday at 9 p.m., the Virginia Chess Club members hone their game in the Newcomb Hall basement, where the checkered floor resembles their chess boards.

Second-year College student Christy Hobough founded the club just last spring.

"I sent out an e-mail at the beginning of second semester [of last year] and I got a lot of responses," Hobough said. "I went to Student Council and filled out the paperwork," making the Virginia Chess Club fully registered with the University as a Contracted Independent Organization.

Hobough also serves as the president of the Virginia Chess Club.

"Membership is by dues," Hobough said. "But a lot of [the players] aren't members; they just like to play chess."

"It takes a couple of weeks to learn the basics," she added. "It's not the hardest thing to learn. But it's kind of hard to pick up at this age." Hobough said she has played since tenth grade.

Since the club became official last spring, it now has its own Web site on the Student Council server, www.student.virginia.edu/~chess/, which explains such game variations as "speed chess" and "bughouse."

The club has attracted 25-30 dues-paying members, Hobough said. Most of the players are familiar with chess, but some new players do come to watch and play, she said.

"I knew the basics, but I never played," first-year Engineering student Samir Roy said. "On Yahoo!, there's a game site. I started playing there."

Practicing also helps club members prepare for tournaments.

"Right now, we're having a round robin within the club to get rankings," Hobough said. "We rank players and when a tournament comes, we take the top five or 10 players."

The University club competes against clubs at William & Mary, James Madison University and Virginia Tech. In early November, the Virginia Chess Club will host a tournament where all four schools will play.

At the end of last semester, the Chess Club defeated William & Mary. The club typically goes to one or two tournaments each semester, with an occasional scrimmage as well.

At a tournament, chess is played with restricted time limits.

"In tournaments, we'll play 30-minute timed games, and blitz games, basically five minutes [of playing time] per person. They go pretty fast and they're really hard," Hobough explained.

However, some students said they prefer untimed games.

First-year College student Joe Swanson admits that he's been "playing forever.

"For me, I guess time's all right, to keep me from playing real slow," Swanson said. "But it's ridiculous. You just have to move, you can't think."

But other chess players excel at the quick pace of timed chess.

"I'm a big fan of timed chess. It makes things more interesting," second-year Engineering student John Rhodes said.

While the club attracts newcomers, it also has more experienced players.

Third-year Law student Bob Probasco is the Chess Club's highest ranked player. "A couple of years ago, before Christy started up the club, they had an unofficial one here," Probasco said. "I came across it on a Web site. I came and played and when Christy started up the club [officially], there I was."

He said his experience in playing chess has evolved over time.

"I've been playing fairly seriously for a little over 30 years," he added. "I think I probably learned [chess] 10 years before that. I joined the National Chess Federation and played in officially sanctioned tournaments."

Probasco considers himself semi-professional and has even played in tournaments with cash prizes.

But most club members aren't involved with chess to make money.

"It's a private, quiet game," second-year College student Dan Pinkham said. "Something I can improve by thinking more. This is a sort of relaxation. It's not ultra-competitive, I just come here for fun."

Rhodes echoed the sentiment.

"I just enjoy playing chess," he said. "I was one of the people who didn't play for a while and then picked it up again."

But he added, "I was number seven in the tournament last semester. I won more than I lost."

Until the next tournament, the chess aficionados will gather near the popping popcorn in the Newcomb Hall Theater, as they move their pieces across the checkered surface. They're not there for the movie - they make their own action on the board.

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