Living Chess at Gray Public Library

03.02.07 Chess pieces don't normally talk back to their players.
Yet this was the case on Saturday at the Gray Public Library, when New Hampshire librarian and educator Michael Sullivan led a game of "living chess," with humans standing in for chess pieces on a room-sized board.

Riley Myhaver, 8, of Gray points to where she'd like Erica Larrivee, 8, to make the next move as Riley's opponent, Sam Holmquist, 7, left, takes note during a "living chess" game at the Gray Public Library. Michael Sullivan, far right, guided the action. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Check this out: Chess play gets physical

By ISAAC KESTENBAUM, News Assistant Portland Press Herald Maine Sunday Telegram
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Some participants dressed as their chosen pieces and wore white or black, depending on their affiliation.
Certain positions are more popular than others, said Sullivan, who lectures and conducts workshops throughout the country. "Most of the elementary-aged boys end up wanting to be knights," he said. "Because dressing up as a knight is very fun."
Most young girls, said Sullivan, want to be the queen. This sometimes poses a problem, because Sullivan likes to assign pieces based on height.
In Gray, the game unfolded on a giant board, roughly 20 feet square, made of interlocking rubber tiles.
Sullivan tries to keep live games fast-paced. "I try to remind players that this is not their chance to play championship-level chess," said Sullivan. "You want to keep it moving, keep it fun and be aggressive. Don't try to play your best game; try to play your most exciting game."
Living chess is often chaotic. "When the pawns are wandering off to see their daddies, and the rooks are sitting down, it can be very difficult to visualize the game," said Sullivan.
This is why Sullivan usually chooses a skilled opponent. "Good players don't play the game on the board anyway," he said. "They play in their heads."
Sullivan often wins the matches, but that's not the point of the games, he said. "I want to get a lot of energy going and get kids interested in the game," he said.
"Often kids think about chess as something you sit down and do quietly for six hours at a time, which sounds kind of dull," Sullivan said. "(Living chess) gives a view of chess as something very active and community oriented; you get up and do it on your feet."
Sullivan hopes a few rounds of living chess will entice young people to use the library.
"There are books on chess there," he said. "A lot of libraries have chess clubs. Hopefully this is not just a one-shot deal. Hopefully they will come back to the library over and over again."
News Assistant Isaac Kestenbaum can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

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