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Learning the moves at the library

George Reuning, of Saxonburg, plays chess against Oliver Siemer with the large chess pieces at South Butler Community Library on Thursday. Siemer’s father, Jason, made the pieces. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle 11/17/22

SAXONBURG — Chess aficionado Oliver Seimer, 13, of Saxonburg, loves to play the game but was having trouble finding both opponents and places to play.

He said a Pittsburgh chess club’s rooms were cramped and stuffy and it didn’t “have the right atmosphere.” And Oliver prefers to face his foe across a board, not online.

“When we go to St. Louis, there’s a really awesome chess club there with plenty of tables. That made us want to start something here,” Oliver said.

So, his father, Jason Siemer, urged Oliver to do something about it. The result is the Saxonburg Chess Club, which meets from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at South Butler Community Library, 240 W. Main St.

“I challenged him to not wait on someone, create something you want, do it yourself,” said Siemer, the owner of the Deadwood Custom cabinetry business.

Oliver rose to the challenge. He approached Michelle Lesniak, the library’s director, in August about using the library for the fledgling club.

“Their first gathering astounded everyone with 30 people, adults and children, showing up to play chess,” said Lesniak. All ages and skill levels are welcome.

Siemer’s woodworking skills helped get the word out. He made an oversize chess set and a board made out of snap-together tiles that Oliver set up in the library parking lot during Saxonburg’s monthly Mingle on Main events to publicize the group.

Oliver said club members can play on the giant board or on a number of regular-size chess sets donated to the club by Penn United Technologies.

Usually, there is a chess lesson around 5:30 p.m., on this night Oliver was set to explain the pin tactic which is when an attacked piece cannot move without exposing a more-valuable piece behind it.

Oliver, a seventh-grader at St.Luke’s Lutheran School in Jefferson Township, had been playing chess for two years and is ranked 1,390 by the U.S. Chess Federation on a scale where 700 connotes beginner and 2,800 as a best player.

“My mom got me a library book on chess, and that’s what got me started,” said Oliver.

“I like that anything can happen. There are so many possibilites,” he said. “Some games get old, but that’s not the case with chess. Some games have luck, but that’s not the case with chess. it’s strategy and calculation.”

“I’d say I’m pretty good,” Oliver said. “I know the basics of the game, so I can start calculating from there. I like the battle of the minds, trying to out-think your opponent.”

Oliver believes the more you play against people, the more you sharpen your game, but before the club’s formation, he played his brother Jude, 11, and his sister, Maddie, 8, a lot.

Jude said, “I’ve only beaten him once, but he’s beaten me countless times.”

Maddie said her games with Oliver are on speed time where he has to make a move in 30 seconds “and I get an hour.”

The makeup of the club is pretty mixed. “We have a lot of kids, but we have some adults too,” Oliver said.

One of those adults is Vince Wojtyna, of Butler, who learned abut the chess club when he saw a flyer for it in the library when he came to attend a Master Gardner meeting.

“I used to be vice president of the Butler Senior High chess team many, many years ago. I don’t play that often. I prefer to play in person than online,” Wojtyna said. He concedes Oliver can beat him four out of five times.

Still, he said, “Every time you play a game, you always learn something.”

That seems to be the philosophy of George Reuning, 32, of Saxonburg, who had just conceded a game to Oliver, turning over his oversize king in surrender.

“I learned about the club at one of the Mingles,” Reuning said. “I try to make it as much as possible. I’ve played chess my whole life. I definitely want to learn and play and practice what learned.”

Susan Kreinbrook brought her 12-year-old son, Andrew, to the chess club meeting. They have been coming since she saw the club on Facebook.

“He started playing in the fourth grade. We were lucky to find this. Every week it’s nice for him to have an activity,” Kreinbrook said.

“I’d rather do other stuff online, but not chess,” said Andrew adding he likes winning his games.

For more more information on the Saxonburg Chess Club email knight@saxonburgchessclub.org.

Andrew Kreinbrook, 12, moves his chess piece in his game of chess against Oliver Siemer, 13, at the South Butler Community Library on Thursday, Nov. 17. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Oliver Seimer plays a game of chess with the large chess pieces against George WHO??? at the South Butler Community Library on Thursday, Nov. 17. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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