Some of chess players who meet at the Asbury Hotel on Tuesdays to play chess.
By WILLIAM CLARK
On the last Monday in July, Tom Masiello took up a few tables in the lobby of The Asbury Hotel on Fifth Avenue in Asbury Park.
He rolled out a few vinyl chess boards, making sure they didn’t curl up in the corners. He set up 32 black and white pieces on each, placing the appropriate pawns, knights and rooks exactly where they needed to go. Within a few minutes, a man walked up. Tom shook his hand and asked if he wanted to play a game.
This is how the Asbury Park Chess Club holds meetings every week.
Masiello, 31, lives just a few blocks from the hotel, which offers its space for free.
“They’re generous,” he said. “They encourage clubs and the community to use the space.”
For almost two years now, anyone who wants to play each Tuesday is welcome. There are no official members, just a group of people who love the game. Sometimes it’s as small as two, other times 20 people fill the lobby.
When Masiello started the club he had a simple mission: get people together to play chess.
The mission seems to be working. A variety of ages have a seat each week to improve their skills.
“From elementary kids to senior citizens,” Masiello said.
It wasn’t what Masiello expected.
After high school, the Marlboro Township native left New Jersey for Towson University and spent the following seven years in Baltimore. When he came back he wanted to find some people to play chess with and he expected a lot of people like himself.
“Just drinking buddies playing chess and having fun,” he said.
Masiello has been impressed with how popular the game has become. He attributes the growth in chess to two factors: the pandemic and Netflix.
During the Covid-19 pandemic which forced so much of life online, many people began playing the game on websites where they could battle another person virtually or try their hand against the computer.
Coinciding with this was the release of “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix, which Variety estimates to have been watched by 62 million viewers.
Masiello said that each was a catalyst for the interest that you see continuing to this day. He even hopes that a show like “The Queen’s Gambit,” which focused on the story of a chess champion from her younger days through adulthood, will help drive more girls to the game.
“Maybe we’ll see ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ in real life,” he said.
The club charges no fees but does host tournaments that help supply the group with equipment. Although they welcome everyone, they do encourage people to bring boards and clocks with them if they have them. Masiello said they are continuing to look into increasing their supply.
A frequent attendee of meetings is Zach Warde, who drives in from Middletown Township..
The 24 year old was an early member.
“I think I was the third guy to show up,” he said. “There’s not a lot of places to play.”
Warde has been playing since he was three years old, mostly against his father or the members of his Boy Scouts Troop. Now, he was waiting for others to come to the club, or even stop and observe long enough to show interest as they make their way to the pool or bar.
“I hope they watch long enough to hear me tell a joke,” he said, laughing. “I talk a lot. It’s actually bad etiquette.”
The Asbury Park Chess Club has been a welcome part of his life.
“There’s not a big chess culture in Monmouth County,” he said. “There’s no Washington Square Park,” referring to the famous spot in Manhattan where people find other enthusiasts.
But it doesn’t seem like anyone minds Warde’s jokes in Asbury Park’s blossoming version of the chess mecca.
“It’s a light atmosphere,” Warde said.
The Asbury Park Chess Club meets every Monday starting at 6 in the lobby of The Asbury Park Hotel. Information can be found on their Instagram page @asburyparkchessclub.