JP Chess Club provides community in JP Licks

With a smile on his face, Jamie Williams welcomed the members of Jamaica Plain Chess Club in the JP Lick on Center Street — encapsulating the intimate, laid-back environment that Williams said he hopes to capture in every get-together. Every week, dozens of chess players flock to the glacier to play for a few hours.

Created in July 2021 by Williams, the Jamaica Plain Chess Club, or JP Chess, has over 100 members. Williams said he was finally able to return to the game of chess after a 20-year hiatus he took to focus on his career and his family.

“I’m now semi-retired from being an auditor, so I’ve had time to put something together,” Williams said. “Before JP Chess, I used to travel to Medford Chess Club on weekends. I even joined a small group at Brookline that was only four to five people and sometimes no one showed up. So my wife actually said to me, ‘Why don’t you put something in place locally?’… I kind of filled that void.

Compared to other Boston chess clubs, Williams said JP Chess emphasizes community. For example, there are no dues or fees for equipment and tournaments – the club is supported simply by donations from members and small businesses.

“From the start, I wanted to have a place where people could just show up and play,” Williams said. “In fact, our first donor happened when I was sitting in my dentist’s chair and asking my dentist if he wanted to donate money. He gave me $70. Gradually, I then approached other companies.

Williams approached JP Licks in July 2021. The venue has since developed a partnership with JP Chess providing a venue. Every Thursday evening, around 20-24 members gather at the outside tables to play. It’s a win-win situation, Williams said, because passers-by naturally become curious when they see individuals playing chess outside an ice cream shop.

“In my opinion, JP Licks also got a bit of a business,” he said. “Passersby see us playing chess and get excited. Often they continue to watch and have ice cream as well.

The club organizes many tournaments. Although there are regular matches in the summer and winter, every three months the organization also holds a quarterly blitz where members can play rapid chess in five-minute rounds. It was during a blitz tournament that the national master Ryan Young was first introduced to the club. A national captain is appointed by the United States Chess Federation players with a rating higher than 2200.

“I just showed up for fun,” Young said. “I’ve always loved playing street chess. Especially since the pandemic, chess is only online, and you kind of miss the tactile element of social play.

Similarly, member Mark Houston said that JP Chess offers a more multi-dimensional experience when playing face-to-face compared to online play.

“I like face-to-face. It’s very satisfying to see a nice sequence of moves, especially when you get to pull off your learned traps. It’s pretty cool to see this in action. And after, it’s fun to watch the game again with your opponent,” Houston said.

Williams said his hope for the club was to bring the community together, as well as just enjoy the game of chess.

“The beauty of it all is that no matter where they come from, their profession or their background, when they sit down at the chess table, it’s kind of like an even playing field,” said Williams. “All differences lose their meaning. … It’s nice to see the barriers fall around a common interest.

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