Chairman Of The Board
Nearly hidden on Alvarado Street, the Monterey Chess and Dart Center is a world apart.
Thursday, October 5, 2000
831--Tales From the Area Code
It''s an unremarkable doorway on Alvarado street, set back in an alcove stained by weather and time. Even the handmade sign declaring it the entrance to the Monterey Chess and Dart Center is unremarkable. It''s the type of nondescript entry that Ray Bradbury or Stephen King would use as the gateway to another dimension--and in some ways, that''s exactly what it is.
Inside the doorway, you''re immediately faced by a wainscoted stairway with a handrail that''s darkened with use, frayed red carpet on the steps, and at the first landing a metal grate that prohibits visitors from going any further until they ring a bell and are granted access by the guardian of the inner sanctum. That guardian is Ted Yudacufski, who has run the center for the last 33 years.
Yudacufski first came to the Monterey area in the 1950s when he was stationed at Fort Ord for basic training. He founded the chess center following a couple stints at the Defense Languages Institute, learning first Russian and then Korean, and then getting his teaching degree.
Although he''s an accomplished chess player, most of his time has been spent organizing tournaments at the center and other locations in Northern California. He also teaches chess to both adults and children. But Yudacufski isn''t a one-game pony.
"I actually compete more in darts," Yudacufski says. "I think I would have played more chess if I hadn''t been forced into organizing and directing tournaments."
The center where Yudacufski spends most of his time is a warren of rooms and hallways, upstairs from the old Regency Theater in a building owned by United Artists. Molding and other architectural details attest to the building''s past as the less-favored sister to the State Cinemas across the street.
In the main room, things today are much the same as they have been for decades. A half dozen battered wooden tables line a wall with windows overlooking Alvarado Street. Chessboards, gamepieces and timers are set up on the tables, awaiting players. A pair of well-punctured dartboards hang at the end of throwing lanes.
Possibly the largest room in the complex, the one reserved for the monthly tournaments, is at the moment littered with a wild array of chess books and magazines that Yudacufski has pulled from his archives.
These treasures, collected over the last three decades, are of interest to a Swedish collector, who, Yudacufski says, wants to have the best chess collection in Europe. A frequent visitor to the area, the Swedish collector has already spent several thousand dollars at the Chess Center, according to Yudacufski. The collector''s interest in books and memorabilia may be well timed.
"Now that United Artists has filed for bankruptcy, I don''t know how that''s going to affect us," says Yudacufski. "We may be winding down. We''re an old historic part of Monterey, but I don''t know if we''ll get preserved.
If the center''s current location is closed, it wouldn''t be the first time Yudacufski has been faced with a choice about the center''s future. Although it''s been open here since 1972--when Bobby Fischer won the world championship of chess--the center first opened in 1966 at Casa Alvarado. Yudacufski smiles as he points to the chessboards on the table that still bear the hand-lettered name, "Casa Alvarado Chess Club."
Despite such obvious displays of history and continuity, Yudacufski says the world of chess is changing. Not only are there more--and better--women players in the game, but there are more good young players than ever before.
"The age of good players is going down and down and down," says Yudacufski. With a grandfather''s pride he talks about his 4-year-old grandson who''s been interested in the game since he was 2. "The first word out of his mouth was ''pawn''." Of course, that grandson had a bit of a headstart: Both of Yudacufski''s daughters were accomplished players at a young age.
But other youthful players don''t have quite the same upbringing, and Yudacufski marvels at one youngster who''s been coming to Chess Center tournaments for several months, and whose rating is skyrocketing. Since July, 10-year-old Alex Setzepfandt''s rating has soared from 1658 to 1720. (A rating of 1800 qualifies a player as a Class A player, 2000 marks expert level, and 2200 is the rating for a master.) "He came here for our August tournament," says Yudacufski, "and beat his first master."
Yudacufski credits early exposure to the logic of computer-use as part of the reason for younger, better chess players. But computers have been something of a two-edged sword for the center. While they may be sharpening some thinking skills, they are also cutting into his business.
"Right now, there are so many chess players on the Internet," says Yudacufski, "there are thousands of players all the time. You can get addicted to it. I haven''t allowed myself to do that, but some of my closest friends have. If it wasn''t for the darts, we probably would have closed down long ago."
In addition to teaching chess, Yudacufski teaches darts and sees a correlation between the two games. Although darts requires a more immediate focus, both games demand a solid opening, good play in the middle and require exacting math skills in the end game. Conquering the logic necessary for both games can provide a good model for other aspects of life, says Yudacufski, particularly if that skill is learned at an early age.
"Kids who start playing young, say kindergarten through fifth grade, have a big headstart over me, who started playing chess in my 20s," says Yudacufski. "Kids who get started in chess early usually make good choices in life."
With a smile, Yudacufski points to his own history. At about the same time he was considering opening a chess center in Monterey, Yudacufski got a job offer to work in the hotel industry in Florida.
"If I had got started in chess earlier, I probably would have taken that job in Florida that my family wanted me to take."
The Monterey Chess and Dart Center, 430 Alvarado, Monterey. Open 4-10pm, Tuesday-Friday; 2-10pm on Saturday; 2-7pm on Sunday. 646-8730.