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Checkmate: Belmont student is 2014 Tennessee state chess champion

Located just about a mile south of Belmont’s campus, the Nashville Chess Center on Belmont Boulevard greets eager participants ready to learn and master the art of chess.

Founded in 1995, the yellow three-story house serves as a haven for all that is the game.  Walking up the stone steps and entering the heavy wooden door, the first sight is rows of boards with pieces aligned perfectly and ready for play.  From the art on the walls to books on the shelves to the large floor set on the front porch, everything at the NCC revolves around chess.

Welcoming all levels of participants from kids who have never played the game to some of the best adults and students playing in the country, the NCC offers lessons and tournaments for those keen of the strategic game.  Although one of main focuses of the NCC is the education of secondary and elementary age students and currently works in more than 20 middle Tennessee schools, its purpose is to educate the public about the art, science, sport and discipline of chess.  The NCC is financed through donations from foundations, corporations and private individuals.

Middle Tennessee native Todd Andrews, 32, and the director of the NCC since 2007, has built the non-profit organization to its present popularity.

“I believe I started out just doing some lectures.  I was attending culinary school at the time and cooking full-time, I continued cooking while I built up the NCC. The NCC had been left in pretty rough, organizational shape and I dedicated a lot of volunteered hours to get it to where it is now,” said Andrews.  “Once the NCC was bringing me a pretty stable living, I looked for any chance to get out of the kitchen.”

Today, teaching and being the director of the NCC is Andrews’ full-time job.  He learned to play chess as a child when he visited his strict and highly religious grandparents’ home because it was one of the few allowed activities.  He learned by reading a Wal-Mart chess set instruction manual.

Originating more than a thousand years ago, chess still thrives today because of its mental challenge, the entertainment value and it can be enjoyed by all ages, among many other reasons.  With 16 pieces and 64 squares, a great deal of patience, logic and strategic thinking is required.

“People enjoy playing chess for a few reasons.  Some are adrenaline junkies and they like the rush of out thinking another individual.  Some players enjoy it as an artistic expression. Some people enjoy that search for the truth in the game.  They want to find the best move and know where things could have gone better.  Then, some players just want to win trophies and cash,” said Andrews.  “I have probably been all of these types of players in my life.”

While chess can be intimidating to new players, the NCC welcomes both new and old participants alike.

“Our members are friendly and always willing to sit down and help a new player out.  It can be kind of intimidating being new to chess and trying to find someone on your level to play, then you walk into our door where there are so many strong players—and so many strong kids.  It takes a certain level of determination to challenge yourself in the form of taking beatings by third graders.  But we do not look down on anyone and everyone needs to start somewhere,” said Andrews.

This year, Andrews captured the 2014 Tennessee chess state championship in Chattanooga.  However, he shared the winning title with Belmont undergraduate and NCC instructor, John Bick who tied with Andrews for first.  Although they didn’t play against each other at the tournament, they each garnered four wins and one draw resulting in the title as co-champs.

Bick, 34 from New Orleans, is in his first year at Belmont intending to major in social work while teaching chess part-time at the NCC.  Bick has played more than 100,000 games of chess and spent countless hours studying the game.

“I have been associated with the NCC since 2007 when I began playing chess for the Tennessee Tempo in the United States Chess League.  I did not start teaching for them until this past summer.  Right now, I teach a class of 30 middle school students and also private lessons.  Usually they are lower and middle school aged, but I have taught adults as well,” said Bick.  “It was nice to share first place with Todd, especially since we drove there together.”

Bick is not the only connection that Belmont shares with the NCC.  Jim Al-Shamma, assistant professor of theatre at Belmont, has been a member of the NCC since 2007 and plays there about once a week.

“I have been playing chess since about the age of 9, when my father taught me. I started playing in rated tournaments when I was 15, and was ranked 23rd in the United States under the age of 16. I became a National Chess Master in my 20s as a result of study and frequent tournament play,” said Al-Shamma.  “My favorite thing about NCC is that it is a community of chess players all of whom share a passion for the game.”

The NCC also accepts applications from Belmont students interested in teaching a few hours throughout the week or to volunteer.

For a game that is thousands of years old, it is still alive, well and thriving at the NCC.  For more information on the center, go to

This article was written by Andie Rice. 


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