Bobby Fischer’s defeat of Soviet chess champion Boris Spassky in 1972 was all it took to get 17-year-old Jay Bonin hooked on the game.
Thirty-six years later, Bonin, now 53, of Queens, was at the Albany Marriott on Wolf Road on Saturday to play in the 130th annual New York State Championship chess tournament against about 200 other players.
“It was his fighting spirit,” Bonin said of Fischer, who died in January at age 64 of kidney failure. “He was a hero because he ended Soviet domination of the game.”
The players this weekend, ranging in skill from novices to experts, each play six games of chess in one of four different divisions, based on skill.
The entry fee is about $100 for each division. The top four finishers in the open division receive $1,400, $700, $400 and $200 as prize money, respectively. Prizes are smaller in the lower divisions.
Players are awarded one point for a win, half a point for a tie and zero points for a loss. Tiebreakers based on the strength of each player’s opponents are used if more than one player is tied at the top with the same number of points.
The tournament, which started Friday evening with registration and social activities, continues through Monday.
“I had no idea [before Fischer’s win] that there were tournaments,” Bonin said. “I just thought it was a casual thing.”
Brenda Goichberg of Continental Chess works with her husband to help organize the event.
She said chess is a game that is open to people of all nationalities and ages.
“You don’t have to speak the language to play chess, you’re just over a board,” she said “There’s no barrier there.”
Goichberg said that she and her husband, Bill, travel across the country and typically host about 40 tournaments annually on weekends.
The couple lives in Salisbury Mills, a town in Orange County.
Bill Goichberg is the president of both the U.S. Chess Federation and the New York State Chess Association, which sanction tournaments on the national and local level.
Brenda Goichberg said she is a beginner chess player herself and added that life on the road hosting tournaments never is boring.
Daily tournament action for Saturday was winding down by about 4 p.m. in the Salon Room at the hotel.
About a dozen games were still going on, with the mostly male competitors concentrating silently and intently on the boards in front of them.
“The more you play chess, the greater your self-control,” she said. “It does a lot for you.”
Competitors in the Albany tournament came from throughout the state, but also Pennsylvania and Connecticut, Brenda Goichberg said.
“I like the camaraderie,” Bonin said. “You just have a feeling of belonging.”
Ron Lohrman, owner of the Rochester Chess Center in Rochester, was at the tournament selling chess boards, key chains, books, DVDs and other items.
He said more players today are learning how to play the game from computer programs and Internet Web sites.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” said Lohrman’s son, Shelby, who also works at the chess center. “Anybody can truly be exceptional.”