Castle master

Rick Earl makes the opening move in a game of chess against Les Traff Wednesday afternoon at the Mower County Senior Center. — Eric Johnson/

Senior Center resident keeps sharp by playing Chess

Les Traff sat across from an empty chair on Wednesday and waited. The board and pieces were already set up, but still, his challenger did not come.

It was disheartening for Traff, who plays chess nearly every Wednesday and Thursday at the Senior Center. He was expecting Bill Cox, who has been challenging Traff at Chess for about two years. After several minutes, Traff discovered Cox was in the hospital.

Rick Earl makes the opening move in a game of chess against Les Traff Wednesday afternoon at the Mower County Senior Center.

He wasn’t surprised, as Cox suffered a stroke several years ago and has trouble talking and moving parts of his body. Still, Cox makes it to the Senior Center nearly every week to challenge Traff. While several others infrequently play chess at the Senior Center, it seemed as if nobody would play on Wednesday. Worse, another friend of Traff’s for 60 years had a heart attack on Tuesday at the Senior Center. Traff wasn’t having the best week, to say the least.

Rick Earl, who helps at the Senior Center, has played chess. He briefly filled in on Wednesday.

“Oh, I didn’t see that,” Earl said, as Traff showed him his mistake and allowed Earl to retract the move.

Traff is a seasoned chess player, and it wasn’t long before he was sweeping the board and getting his mind off some of the grief. He started when he was 10 after he and a buddy split the cost of a $1 chess set. Throughout school, he played a lot of chess, until he was in his prime in his 30s.

“Your mind is sharp, and you are playing all the time; and you are playing good players,” Traff said.

He loves the planning involved, and he looks forward to playing each week with Cox.

“I think the planning ahead and the satisfaction when the plan works is the best,” Traff said. “The interaction, too.”

Of course, Traff could play chess on a computer, too. But it’s not the same. Playing with Cox showed Traff even more about the benefits of chess.

“His doctor says it’s great for him,” Traff said. “His wife says it’s great.”

Cox isn’t able to play pool with Traff, but chess is a good alternative as it exercises his mind and gives him enjoyment. He smiles and laughs when he forces Traff into mistakes. While Traff may know more opening moves than Cox, he said there have still been plenty of stalemates.

“He got a stalemate, and I’m 11 pieces up on him,” Traff remembered about one match.”

Cox may know Traff has the advantage at chess, but Cox still gets frustrated like many when he loses.

“You can see the smoke coming out of his ears sometimes,” Traff said. “But he always comes back for more.”

Matches against Cox may be the most entertaining; however, Traff simply wishes more people would play against him, no matter what age or sex. Traff may be able to beat most people who walk in the door, but he still appreciates the competition.

“You don’t necessarily have to be a scholar to play chess well,” he said.

The Mower County Senior Center schedules open chess at about 1 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday. But even if nobody else is around, one can bet Traff will be waiting, with pieces already on the board.

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