Chess Knights: event uses chess to bridge cultural and generational divides

Courtesy Dee Hubay.

Emily Ambery | Staff Writer


In chess, a knight moves two spaces in one direction and one space in another — creating a pattern that no other piece can replicate.

At Duquesne University, a new chess event called “Community Chess Nights” partners chess players of all ages and abilities to create memories and stories — that no one else can replicate.

Chess Nights will start on Tuesday, Sept. 7th from 7 – 9 p.m. in room 119 of the Student Union and will continue every first and third Tuesday of each month thereafter. This event is hosted and organized by the Sociology Club, the Chess Club and the Big Idea Team. 

This community building effort is supported and patronized by members of various campus and community organizations such as: the Elsinore-Bennu Think Tank for Restorative Justice, the Pittsburgh Police, and the House of Life.

“The goal of our community Chess Nights is to bridge cultural and generational divides by using chess as a dialogue,” said Dee Hubay, organizer and member of Community Chess Nights. “It brings together those from various backgrounds and ages for one common activity.”

The House of Life is a non-profit organization owned and operated by citizens returning from incarceration to help with re-entry adjustments and challenges. In this context, returned citizens refers to individuals who are returning or reentering society after incarceration.

The EBTT uses the success stories of its members to understand why they succeeded and how their journey can assist others who are re-entering society. The Think Tank includes returning citizens, students and faculty from various disciplines and universities, activists, artists, political leaders, police as well as prison and justice system employees and continues to meet weekly on campus at Duquesne. The Big Idea Team, a work group of the Think Tank designed to bridge the cultural and generational divides and have spearheaded this event.

“Chess is a beautiful game where individuals can meet over the board regardless of age or socio-economic background and engage in competition on a level playing field,” said Peter Booth, vice president of Community Chess Nights at Duquesne. “It is important for us as students to be aware of our impact on the larger community that we inhabit and make sure that we can take part in some positive engagement in that space.”

When Hubay began working with the EBTT and returned citizens, she met 70-year-old Charlie Lewis. While working together, Lewis, of Carrick, taught her how to play chess. Lewis was unjustly sentenced to 30-71 years in prison for a non-violent first major offense.

After 18 years, his sentencing was overturned after he proved a constitutional violation and was released from prison in 2004.

“Charlie later overturned his sentencing via a handwritten motion he had written 17 years prior, spending a total of 18 years incarcerated before proving a constitutional violation and being released,” Hubay said.

It was in prison that Lewis learned how to play chess.

“Then we started getting together a couple times each month to play and I invited a couple other friends to learn, and eventually realized this is something everyone might love,” Hubay said.
Hubay started getting together with friends informally to play chess with returned citizens, and they brought the idea for official chess nights to the Think Tank. She received support to create an event for all to learn and play chess.

“Chess is a fun way to bring people of all backgrounds together for a common and neutral cause,” Hubay said. “It opens the door for discussion and allows seemingly unrelated groups of people to find common ground.”

Looking forward, Hubay and the Think Tank wish to launch additional initiatives that address problems and issues with reentry after incarceration.

“In the future, we hope to launch more initiatives such as community cooking and different community-based actions that will address the key problems and challenges with reentry after incarceration,” Hubay said. “Chess Nights are targeted at helping returned citizens find acceptance and friendship in the community, whereas other initiatives can address other needs, such as learning to cook.”

Chess Nights are part of a larger “Building Bridges” initiative to create intergenerational communication and social and community connectedness. Building Bridges aims to facilitate the process of reentry, transition and self sufficiency for returned citizens.

“We believe that it is imperative to recognize that Duquesne University, being a campus in the middle of a diverse and dynamic city, is only a small part in our greater conurbation and we hope to connect with the people around us in a meaningful and positive way,” Booth said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Community Chess Nights is an event, not a club.