DURHAM — In a lifetime of chess devotion, Roz Katz has played tournaments in Iceland, Israel and Italy trading queens with grandmasters of the game.
She wrote four books on chess instruction, aimed at teaching 5-year-old cartoon junkies to castle, check and skewer. She invented a chess-themed comic strip Zaria which appears bimonthly in Chess Life for Kids magazine.
She built an upstairs chess room in her Durham home, showing off her autographed picture of Bobby Fischer, framed portraits of every world champion from Wilhelm Steinitz to Garry Kasparov, and a few of her favorite trophies.
And on Sunday, she holds a free expo at the Barnes & Noble in Brier Creek, hoping the Triangle will join her brain-building obsession. As a side attraction, her husband Charles Pole will take on 10 opponents at once.
Its good for you, said Katz, 68. I know a lot of chess players, and I dont know any of them that have Alzheimers.
Her rally cry comes as chess luminaries bemoan its dwindling popularity, even with a computerized opponent ready to play with just the click of a few Smartphone buttons. Google Trends notes that chess searches have fallen off by more than half since 2004.
In four years, chess will be dead, former world champion Anatoly Karpov said in 2010. So theres no point in talking about four years from now. In 20 years, weve already lost so much its hard to imagine. At one time, chess was competing with soccer as the most popular sport. Now, you cant see chess anywhere. Even poker has surpassed chess in popularity. Its a disgrace.
To Katz, chess ought to be taught in every classroom. She helped pass a bill in New Jersey the state she left last year allowing every second-grader the option to play.
In the Triangle, though, Raleigh saw more than 500 competitors for a scholastic chess championship in 2011, most of them ages 7 to 11. The Raleigh nonprofit Chess Achieves lists eight schools in Wake County with chess programs: seven elementary schools and one middle.
Theres a club here, said Conrad Conero of the North Durham group. Theres one in Morrisville. Theres one in Cary. Raleigh has two or three clubs. The center for chess was always in New York, but to get that many clubs here is quite a feat. They said computers were going to destroy chess, but they havent. Theyve made it more popular.
Still, the Triangle needs more players if the empty stone tables in downtown Raleigh are any evidence.
Katz life on the 8×8 board started with her son David, who first slid a bishop at age 3, then attracted attention as a chess wunderkind by the time he hit kindergarten. For his 5th birthday, he received a custom-made chess clock.
My kids were raised with no TV, Katz said. None. They still dont watch TV.
As her interest grew, and her skills developed, Katz earned so many trophies that she had to sell 57 of them to reduce clutter. And while her chess room still contains 19 sets, she sold a gazillion to a collector. On business trips, she found the local chess club. Overseas on vacation, she found tournaments.
Im really famous in Iceland, she said. They wouldnt let me play in Egypt because Im a woman. We played in the hotel, just informally, (and) in a ferry boat on the Nile.
Her book Start Playing Chess Today! opens with this hint: Brain power is the key to winning a game of chess. THINK + PLAN = WIN. Read a few pages, and youll know to keep your knights close to the center, and that losing a bishop to take a rook is a good trade.
Im a really good teacher because I was a bad student, she said. It just scares me so that the kids are so plugged-in now. They cant make decisions. They have no experience in thinking things through.
Shell show you how Sunday a champion in a war game with no blood.