Community Profile: Checking in with a king of chess

Ray Kuenstler is looking for more chess players.

The retired resident heads up the adult chess club at Ramona Library on Monday mornings at 10, but said participation lately has been waning.

“It was always going to be small because of the hour; 10 (a.m.) to 12 doesn’t allow for 9 to 5 workers. So it ends up more (with) retired or people with unusual schedules,” he said.

Kuenstler said he has proposed holding the chess club in the evening to attract players who work.

“I think I like that you can learn it in an hour and spend a lifetime trying to be good at it,” he said.

An avid player, Kuenstler has been enjoying the game for about 60 years. Chess, he added, has certain connotations.

“If you watch TV or the movies, any time they want to portray someone as intelligent or powerful, you’ll see a chess set in the background. It has that association,” he said.

Kuenstler fell into the role of chess club leader when he showed up for the first club session started by then librarian Mike Voss in 2014.

“We enjoyed each others’ company and the chess, and it was casual,” Kuenstler said. “It was never that competitive. It was friendly. Everyone enjoyed playing whether they won or lost.”

When he began showing up early and helping Voss set up the tables, Kuenstler said he was asked to become a volunteer and run both the adult and youth chess clubs. He agreed to take on the adult club but said he would only assist with the youth. Now, he is also running the youth chess club at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, temporarily filling in for the high school student who was in charge.

Kuenstler, who started playing chess in junior high, said some studies indicate that children who play chess will do better in school because it requires concentration and understanding cause and effect.

When kids first start playing, often they will “play completely randomly,” said Kuenstler. “As they get better they start moving pieces with purpose.”

To provide challenges, each week Kuenstler gives the youths a chess puzzle. If they do it correctly they can checkmate their opponent in two moves. Initially he gave a candy bar to the first person who could solve the puzzle, but the exercise has become so popular that kids teamed up to figure it out. Kuenstler said he decided anyone who solved it, even if players worked as a team, would get a candy bar.

“I’m the only chess club where they found value in teamwork,” he humorously noted. “Chess has never had teamwork involved.”

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to a game of chess.

Kuenstler formerly traveled to Poway Library to play chess and found himself competing against a 5-year-old.

“I played him every week for about a year. By the time he was 6, he started to beat me,” said Kuenstler. “He was always a challenge.”

When Kuenstler took a graphics course at Palomar College in the 1990s, he created a book for his final called “How I Taught my Father to…

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