I’m very sad to hear that Chess Park will be closing. I’m writing this letter because I have a proposal to relocate the chess boards to another place in Santa Monica, perhaps Virginia Park. I’ll tell you a bit about myself, why this matters to me and why I think it’s a good idea.
My name is Cody O’Connell. I’m 27 years old, I grew up in here in Santa Monica and I’m a resident now as well. When I was a teenager, I got involved with the now discontinued chess program at the Santa Monica libraries run by the late Mel Bloch. I loved it. I’d volunteer there to teach kids how to play and the adults would give me some pointers on my own game. It brought people of all ages together to learn from one another and have fun. After that I went off to college at UC Santa Barbara and founded the chess club there. I met some great friends along the way. Nowadays I still play chess regularly and I’ve coached quite a few friends throughout the pandemic. Chess is a lifelong passion for me for both the beauty of the game and the people you meet.
I have fond memories of Chess Park. I started going there when I was a teenager and some really good players would stop by on Saturdays sometimes. It was the first exposure I had to watching a real “chess hustler” playing blitz chess. The crowd loved it. It makes me sad that such an iconic place is closing.
The truth is this might be a blessing in disguise for the chess community. Chess Park is hard to access. It’s located right next to the pier so there’s lots of traffic, it’s geographically out of the way and finding parking is tough. That’s why I’m proposing that we relocate the boards from Chess Park to a more accessible place in Santa Monica. This should be pretty easy because as far I can tell, the boards themselves are thin metal plates that are simply screwed down to the wood tables. We can just unscrew them and reattach them elsewhere.
As for where to put them, I think Virginia Park would be a great choice. It already has plenty of wood tables and benches. We could just screw the boards to them. It’s centrally located, accessible and there’s already quite a few community activities going on there. Adding some public chess tables would only strengthen the park’s value to the community. My only complaint is that the layout of the benches at Virginia is a bit sparse. Ideally you’d want multiple benches in the same area so players could mingle and switch games easily. To solve this we could potentially reuse the old Chess Park benches or add new ones in the future. Someday we should also add that life-size chess set from Chess Park because, well, how cool is that? But for now, I want to keep it simple. The simplest solution is to take the metal boards from Chess Park and screw them into the tables at Virginia. All you need is a cordless drill.
By the way, if you ask me, every public table in existence should have a chess board on it. Chess board: $50. Sparking a lifetime interest in a young kid or kindling new friendships: Priceless.
You might be reading this and thinking, “Why not just bring your own chess board to the park?” You can certainly do that and I’ve done that before with a friend. But the thing is, you can’t just show up to the park and expect to find a game. You have to call a friend ahead of time and coordinate. To make it a community activity, you need to create an environment where strangers can meet and play. Fortunately, we chess players aren’t high maintenance. If you lay out the boards, we’ll be there.
In the wake of the The Queen’s Gambit and online chess streaming, chess is back on the rise and I’m hoping we can find a new home for it to grow. As someone who has found great meaning in my life through chess in Santa Monica, I feel obligated to insist that we do. And I know my late mentor, Mel would insist as well.
Cody O’Connell PS If it makes any difference, I’ve bounced this idea off a handful of residents and they all loved the idea. Some of whom are active players and others are community members who just want to see Santa Monica be the best it can be.