With a smile on his face, Jamie Williams welcomed members of Jamaica Plain Chess Club into the J.P. Licks on Centre Street — encapsulating the intimate and casual environment Williams said he hopes to capture at every meeting. Each week, dozens of chess players crowd the ice cream shop to play for a few hours.
Established in July 2021 by Williams, the Jamaica Plain Chess Club, or JP Chess, includes over 100 members. Williams said he’s now finally able to come back to the game of chess after a 20-year break he took to focus on his career and family.
“I’m semi-retired from being an auditor now, so I had the time to set something up,” Williams said. “Before JP Chess, I was traveling all the way to the Medford Chess Club on the weekends. I even joined a little group in Brookline that was only about four to five people and sometimes no one would turn up. So, my wife actually said to me, ‘Why don’t you set up something locally?’… I kind of filled that void in a way.”
In comparison to other Boston chess clubs, Williams said JP Chess has an emphasis on community. For instance, there are no dues or fees to pay for equipment and tournaments — the club is supported simply by donations from members and small businesses.
“From the beginning, I wanted to have somewhere where people can just turn up and play,” Williams said. “In fact, our first donor was when I was sitting in my dentist’s chair and I asked my dentist whether he wanted to donate some money. He gave me $70. Gradually, I then approached other businesses.”
Williams approached J.P. Licks in July 2021. The location has since developed a partnership with JP Chess by providing a venue. Every Thursday evening, approximately 20 to 24 members gather on the outside tables to play. It’s a win-win situation, Williams said, as people walking by become naturally curious when they see individuals playing chess in front of an ice cream shop.
“In my opinion, J.P. Licks has also gotten a bit of business,” he said. “The people walking by see us playing chess and get excited. A lot of times, they continue to watch and grab an ice cream as well.”
The club hosts a number of tournaments. While there are regular matches over the summer and winter, every three months, the organization also holds a quarterly blitz in which members can play fast chess in five- minute rounds. It was at one blitz tournament that national master Ryan Young was first introduced to the club. A national master is designated by the United States Chess Federation to players with a rating higher than 2200.
“I just showed up for fun,” Young said. “I’ve always liked to play street chess. Especially since the pandemic, chess has only been online, and you kind of miss the tactile element of social playing.”
Similarly, member Mark Houston said that JP Chess offers a more multidimensional experience when playing face-to-face compared to playing online.
“I like face-to-face. It’s very satisfying to see a nice sequence of moves, especially when you get to pull your traps that you’ve learned. It’s kind of cool to see that in action. And afterward, it’s fun to go over the game with your opponent,” Houston said.
Williams said his hope for the club is to bring the community together, as well as to simply enjoy the game of chess.
“The beauty of it is, regardless of where they’re from, their profession or background, when they sit down at the chess table, it’s kind of like equal ground,” Williams said. “All the differences become meaningless. … It’s beautiful to watch the breaking down of barriers over a common interest.”