Dan Voje (top) and Skip Benson play chess at the new tables at Logan Park in Northeast in early November. Voje manages the Chess Castle Club./

Northeast is now the unofficial chess center of Minnesota.

Here’s a little-known fact: Northeast boasts the oldest chess club in the state. It’s called the Chess Castle Club and it was founded by a group of local enthusiasts in 1972.

For those who have never ventured to the Waterbury building at Broadway and Central avenues on a Tuesday night to check out the club’s scene, there’s a new place to see it and get involved in the game.

Two outdoor chess tables were installed earlier this year at Logan Park, located at Broadway and Monroe Street. Nonprofit People for Parks co-funded the tables with the Logan Neighborhood Association and the Chess Castle Club donated two chess sets and has offered to teach lessons at the park.

“We’re always happy to see new venues,” said Dan Voje, manager of Chess Castle Club. “It’s a wonderful sport.”

The tables cost around $3,000, which was split between the neighborhood association and People for Parks. One of the tables is wheel-chair accessible and both have two spectator chairs.

Jeff Winter, head of People for Parks, explained that there’s room for additional tables if the two are used. Use is the important part.

“It’d be senseless to put these in if we don’t see any use,” Winter said. “You might feel good, but it doesn’t do anything. The proof will be in the pudding.”

Logan Park is a block away from Chess Castle Club’s headquarters, which makes these tables different from those at other parks.

“Most of them, unfortunately, don’t have a chess club nearby,” Winter said. “That’s what made this ideal.”

Roger Hale is a club patron and the one who brought up Logan Park as a possible site for the tables. Hale remembers what went through his mind when he saw the park.

“I had gotten familiar with the neighborhood,” Hale recalls. “I thought that would be a perfect place for some outdoor chess boards.”

The Chess Castle Club is a mecca for all things chess. You can play a casual game (every Tuesday night, 6–10 p.m.) or buy a year membership and compete in ranked  tournaments, which are held regularly. Voje has organized 142 tournaments this year.

The club brings in a wide variety of players both in skill and age (the youngest player is 9), and offers a wide variety of books to borrow if you need to hone up on your skills.

Hale says the club started as “a group of people who wanted to smoke and play chess.”

Promoting chess is a large part of the club’s focus, as Jack Mangan demonstrates. He runs Minneapolis Chess, an organization that raises money for Minneapolis schools to send children to chess tournaments.

“During the winter season, [Minneapolis schools] have between 200–300 kids playing,” Mangan said. “Any kid in Minneapolis that wants to play chess and is broke, we send them to tournaments.”

Mangan said there are 23 schools in Minneapolis with chess boards, most of them because Minneapolis Chess donated them. Mangan emphasizes the benefits of playing chess.

“Chess is a bilateral game,” he said. “Which means you use both hemispheres of your brain.”

Jiten Patel, chess coach of the year in 2009, helps Mangan get kids into chess. He said chess can teach.

“There’s a lot of chess that can relate to life,” Patel explains. “Long-term planning, life management, consequences. If you make a bad move in chess, it may not look like one right now, but five or 10 moves later, you realize it.
It teaches kids consequences.”

The organization raises money to send kids to 20 tournaments a year. A dozen or so of these are held at Chess Castle Club.

The club is also extending the drive to promote chess to the newly opened chess boards. The club has volunteered to host a mentor program, where members will help the uninitiated learn the subtleties of the game. Hale said people will need some encouragement before the tables become popular.

“We’ll have to really give them some help to get it going next spring,” Hale said. “It’ll take a season for the tables to catch on.”

For the Chess Castle Club, which moved into Northeast a little over a year ago, the neighborhood has been a perfect fit.

“This part of town we’ve got some people who come from Russia or Ukraine,” Hale said. “They love to come over and play some chess. Being in Northeast is really working for us, it’s a great fit.”

Voje feels the same, and said the club was just happy to see the area show increasing interest in the sport. He won’t even mind if his chess sets don’t stay in the park.

“If someone walks off with a whole set, hell it’s not the worst thing,” Voje said. “Maybe they’ll use it.”