October 17, 2016 09:55AM
By Catherine Hewitt
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — Age checkmated youth in the 2016 Rhode Island State Chess Championship this year.
The new state champion, Al Lasser, 65, of Westerly said he was the “underdog” against opponents less than one quarter his age.
“The average age of my opponents was 15 — they were either masters or nationally ranked in the top 100 list for their age,” he said. “One of my opponents in the tournament was eight years old and there was an 11-year old who beat me.”
The Rhode Island championship, held over the course of the Sept. 24 weekend at Rhode Island College in Providence, is open to chess players from every state. A player from out of state can win the first-prize money, but only a Rhode Islander can be the state champion and take home the trophy.
“I’m actually the 11th rated player in Rhode Island and of the other top 10 ahead of me, only number five showed up — a 17-year old named Aidan Sowa,” Lasser said of his opponent, a North Kingstown resident. “The title goes to the highest scoring Rhode Island resident, so it was me or Mr. Sowa — he was overconfident early in the middle game and I made three good moves in a row and that was enough to snatch the game and the title.”
While many start chess in elementary school, Lasser said he discovered the game in his teens.
“I started ‘late” at age 13 and I found a score of a game and I was able to figure out how the moves went,” he said. “Then I played in high school and my game was very good and it took me 10 years to make expert, which involves beating a lot of people.”
The United Chess Federation awards the “expert” title to players who achieve a rating from 2,000 to 2,199, or the number of wins at chess tournaments. At every tournament, chess players’ ratings go up or down depending on the outcome of his or her games.
Achieving expert level required reading numerous chess books and studying the masters.
“I read about 100 books in high school — I wanted to read everything,” he said. “After 10 years I became an expert and I was an expert for 35 years during which I won various titles — I’m the former New Haven champion and the 2012 ‘Quick Chess’ champion for games that are 20 minutes long.”
Lasser is a recent Westerly transplant, moving from New Paltz, N.Y., at the end of May to be near friends and family. He ran an art gallery in Woodstock, N.Y., and later in New Paltz that specialized in blacklight posters.
Upon his arrival, he joined the Westerly Chess Club, which meets at the library every Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m..
“When you’re our age, you can’t have more fun than playing chess,” he said. “When a game reaches the exciting stage of kill or be killed, [it] triggers the biological fight-or-flight response, which triggers the brain to deliver a powerful jolt of adrenaline — it’s that rush that is so addicting.”