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Bernard Parham Sr. spent part of the day at Panera playing two opponents at once. To those that know his story, his skill with a board is no surprise.
Parham is a national chess master internationally known for the Matrix System, a method Parham developed in which players approach chess by seeing each piece as a geometric entity.
He learned to play chess in the early ’60s by watching street hustlers in Indianapolis’ Douglas Park. He took notes watching the games, and soon began playing himself. At the time he was 15 years old, making it easy for potential competitors to underestimate him.
“I found it was an easy way to make money in the parks,” Parham said. “I could make more in a few days than my family’s income for a month.”
Now he enjoys passing on the knowledge he’s accumulated to the students both in the West Lafayette Community School Corp. and at Purdue.
“It’s not so much the ability to remember moves,” Parham said, “but the ability for (the students) to learn in nontraditional ways.”
While Parham played two chess games at a time, a short distance away his son, Bernard Parham Jr., was playing three.
Vince Duffy, a Purdue engineering professor and one of the organizers of the club, said the Parhams were instrumental in getting the club started. During the club’s first callout, there were 50 students present, too many, Duffy said, for Parham Sr. to handle alone.
“I didn’t realize there would be all of them and one of him so I offered to help,” Duffy said. “I was just showing them how to move pieces.”
Since that time, the club has expanded considerably including in the area of technology. Duffy helped secure a small grant used to purchase a number of handheld devices used to record a player’s moves for review after the game.
“I can back it up and say, What happened here?” Duffy said. “Think about this before you make this move.”
Duffy said the club may have long-term research potential but that the goal now is just to get the club fully self sustaining.
“We’re creating a chess culture that wasn’t there before,” Duffy said.