How to Become a Member of Venice Beach's "Chess Club Without Walls"
BY LYNN Q. YU
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2017 AT 7:36 A.M.
I’m duking it out over a chessboard against Gregory Crumby, one of the three gentlemen who run the Venice Beach Knights chess club. A crowd of British, Latin American and Scandinavian tourists has gathered on the boardwalk to snap photos and watch our match.
Crumby chuckles and says, “They love to see this. A Billie Jean King–Bobby Riggs battle of the sexes.”
"Yeah, except Billie Jean keeps losing."
Crumby and I are playing on a timer, which dictates that whoever is able to capture a king first wins. No need to dawdle about for a checkmate — if the opponent is too slow on the uptake, topple the king and end the game. That’s exactly what Crumby does, for the fifth time in a row.
The tourists disperse, taking with them pictures of an older black man and a younger Asian woman playing chess on the beach. For them, it’s novelty. For Crumby, Tim Caldwell and Gary Gallery, it’s their day-to-day routine.
Caldwell started a “chess club without walls” over two years ago, and since then, the trio has been running the club on Venice Beach Boardwalk every Friday through Monday.
The Knights' predecessor was a chess hustler named Frank, who charged $5 a game and would play five people at once. If you beat Frank, you earned $20; if it was a draw, you won $10. No one knows what happened to Frank. Rumors say he ended up dying in a Brazilian prison.
“I wasn’t interested in being a chess hustler,” Caldwell says. “I wanted to start a chess club to promote and teach chess. We wanted to build a chess community. It might be less money, but it’s more fulfillment.”
For just $5 a month, you can play unlimited matches against the trio or any other club members who happen to stop by. Members range from drifters on the boardwalk to kids and their parents. It’s a steal, considering that Los Angeles’ more official chess club sells annual membership packages that can cost hundreds of dollars.