Aspen Snowmass Chess Club brings connection, competition to The Collective
“It’s the best Monday night party in town,” attendee says
Some come to strategize. Others to engage in a bit of healthy competition. A few attend just to socialize.
At the Aspen Snowmass Chess Club, the only requirement for attendance is an interest in the game — and for its faithful players, Monday nights at The Collective in Snowmass Base Village are the place to be.
“It’s the best Monday night party in town,” according to Aislinn Ryan, who came to a meeting last fall to meet new people after moving to Aspen and now regularly carpools with a cohort of Aspenites to the village to attend.
The Aspen Snowmass Chess Club was an idea born out of isolation last spring: while playing an online chess game with a friend, Vangel Yurukov saw a pathway back to in-person interaction through the game he has played since childhood.
“At the end of the day, human connection is very important, and you can’t get anything out of online game compared to the human connection,” Yurukov said. “It’s not just playing chess. It’s a lot bigger than that.”
Yurukov also was facing a “ghost town” conundrum in Base Village after last spring’s shutdown, which was a major blow to the area’s events calendar and restaurant operations, he said. The chess club serves to address both: attendees can order food and drinks from Mix6 and MoxiBar inside The Collective while they play.
“We had to rethink the entire plan for Base Village,” Yurukov said; he also works as a financial controller at East West Partners. “We want to bring people around. … It benefits everyone.”
Support from East West (which manages The Collective) and the town of Snowmass Village (which owns the building) helped make the idea a reality, Yurukov said. The first in-person meeting July 13 was a hit.
“Kids and adults poured in,” he said. “It was pretty popular, to my surprise.”
The club has evolved since its origins last year: Yurukov split the club into a youth group and an adult group and began offering prizes for tournament winners; online meetings kept the club going when Pitkin County was under Red-level restrictions in January.
Attendees come from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. When Yurukov first started the group, most players lived in Snowmass Village, Yurukov said. But there also are players who carpool from Aspen, stop in on the way home to Basalt, or make the hour-plus drive from New Castle just to play.
Some are longtime locals in the valley, others recent transplants to the area. There were eight eager participants during the youth session and around a dozen at the adult session Feb. 22, many of them returning players.
“It makes me happy to see people excited and passionate about chess — it makes me happy to connect people from different backgrounds, different regions,” Yurukov said. “Everyone really connects over a game of chess.”
There’s an educational component to the meetings as well: Yurukov is here in part to share his love of the game he grew up playing as a kid in Bulgaria.
Every session starts with a quote — “every important person who has said something about chess” could be a source, Yurukov said — and a lesson on game strategy.
On the agenda this week: a review of previous lectures and basic moves, a lecture on the “passed pawn” that has advanced beyond all enemy pawns, and, for the adults, a breakdown of a game portrayed in the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit.”
(The miniseries debuted last October and gave a boost to local interest in the game, Yurukov said; nearly every player at the Feb. 22 adult meeting — and a few of the youth club participants — had seen the show.)
Yurukov sees the chess club as a way for him to shape the community; he hopes to expand the club to offer meetings in Aspen, and eventually bring in chess Grandmasters to speak to the club. Sponsorship is another goal, to help fund the tournament prizes that he currently pays for out of pocket.
“Aspen is such a cosmopolitan and such an energetic and dynamic place — you have great music, artists coming in, amazing food, sports, and it’s such an intellectual ground,” he said. “I wanted to bring these people together around the game of chess as well.”
But even as he looks toward his next moves on the board, Yurukov recognizes the journey he took to this point, too.
“I am living the American dream right now,” Yurukov said. “I came from a farm in Bulgaria, so to come to an amazing place, incredible people and to be able to open up a chess club, which is one of my childhood dreams, and have people interested in that, that’s something incredible.”
The Aspen Snowmass Chess Club meets Monday nights at The Collective in Snowmass Base Village. Youth meetings (ages 10 to 20) begin at 5:30 p.m. The adult group (age 21 and older) meets at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit aspensnowmasschessclub.com.
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The extended ski season at Snowmass Ski Area comes to a close April 25 after a bonus week of shredding that includes beer-sliding shenanigans, free parking and lots of still-skiable terrain.