This past year has presented a new challenge for the Mechanics' Institute (MI) Chess Department as well as the general chess community, with over-the-board activities halted due to mandated closures. Nevertheless, despite COVID-19 restrictions for in-person contact and the shelter-in-place order, there was a bright spot: virtual chess. The MI Chess team took this challenge head-on and created online opportunities for chess instruction and competition, as well as social events.
Recently, MI Chess Director Abel Talamantez received word that he was the 2021 recipient of the U.S. Chess Federation's Organizer of the Year Award. Each year, this prestigious award is bestowed upon a member of the chess community who organizes and hosts events at the national and international levels, such as the 2020-2021 Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship (January, 2021), U.S. Amateur Team West Championship (January, 2021), U.S. Junior Chess Congress (April, 2021), and the International Club Team Matches (February, 2021. This is the second time an MI staff member has received the U.S. Chess Federation award. In 2017, Dr. Judit Sztaray, General Manager of MI's Youth Outreach and Events won the Organizer of the Year Award.
Besides the honor and prestige of this latest award, Talamantez believes that recognition such as this helps to "bring chess out of the box" by gathering people together in a positive way and fostering a strong sense of community. With this mission-driven purpose, he spends his time teaching chess strategy while promoting other hidden benefits of the game, including critical thinking skills, learning from mistakes, sportsmanship, and the satisfaction of being part of a larger community.
Over this past year, the MI Chess Club has been busier than ever, nimbly moving to a pandemic-enforced online environment, hosting virtual games, matches, tournaments, and classes on its live chess Twitch channel. Under Talamantez' leadership, MI has hosted matches with other historic chess clubs, including the Zurich Chess Club (1807), Hamburg Chess Club (1830), Edinburgh Chess Club (1822), and Royal Dutch Chess Club (1852). This was significant as these clubs are the four oldest continuously-operating chess clubs in the world, with the Mechanics’ Institute (1854) being fifth.
Talamantez has also organized several special events, such as the Thompson Family Foundation (sponsored by Golden State Warrior Klay Thompson's family in March 2021) and the San Francisco Scholastic Chess Championship (sponsored by AO Dragge Foundation in March 2021). Sponsored events such as these enable more students to compete, thus making chess accessible for all and that is Talamantez' mission - inclusiveness for all. "Organizing community and special events are what give me the most pleasure," says Talamantez. "Outreach into the community has enormous value. Chess brings people together in a good way, and that is truly important."