They come to play.
You can see it in their eyes during the cool, sizing-you-up stares they give one another across the tables. You can hear it in their friendly taunts and quiet trash talk.
Tony Shibona and Glenn Brukbinder, the first to arrive one recent Tuesday afternoon, figured they had time to get in a game before the others appeared. “Shall we play?” Shibona said. “Let’s play.” They took seats at the empty center table at the Caribou Coffee shop at 4520 Roswell Road.
Around them, the usual coffee-shop crowd did the usual coffee-house things. People pecked at laptop keyboards as they peered into the distant reaches of the Internet. Some sipped hot drinks and chatted away on cell phones. Others huddled with customers or filled out paperwork.
Shibona and Brukbinder paid them no mind. Soon the two were deep in thought, doing bloodless battle across a battered chess board. They mobilized their armies of knights and queens, bishops and pawns until one or the other was conquered, his king pinned with nowhere to go. Checkmate.
As they played, other members of their chess-playing group drifted in and claimed seats nearby. Soon, there were 10 of them altogether. For the most part, these were not young men. Shibona, a retired DeKalb Tech teacher, is 75. Brukbinder, who said he emigrated from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) about 20 years ago and worked for MARTA, is 72.
Fred Allen, who’s 79, settled in to watch Shibona and Brukbinder play for a while. Then Lou Rees, who was born in London and has the accent to prove it, took the chair across from Allen and they struck up a game of their own. When asked his age, Rees produced his Georgia driver’s license, gleefully pointing at the birth date. He was born in 1920.
Bill Pulgram, a retired architect, just turned 90 himself. And Alvin Levy, who’s 88, brought along his brother, Marion, who’s 93. “I love this group,” Allen said. “It’s the one place where I’m not the oldest guy in the room.”
A few relative youngsters show up now and then. Sometimes, Brukbinder’s grandsons play a game or two. His wife plays, too. Rocha Harris, who’s a mere 27, joined the group after he heard good chess was being played every Tuesday at a Roswell Road coffee house.
Harris, a graphic designer, learned to play from his dad. He says he’s still learning by playing with the Sandy Springs coffee house crew. “You meet great people playing this game,” he said. “It’s supposed to be an intellectual game. You meet a lot of great thinkers playing this game.”
Some players at Caribou might chuckle at that. Still, they take their chess seriously. Several take part in a similar group that plays each Friday at the Dorothy C. Benson Senior Complex in Sandy Springs, Shibona said. Shibona pulled the coffee house players together a year or two ago. “I decided I needed someone to play with,” Shibona said, “so they all joined me.”
They played for a while at a coffee house in Decatur, Shibona said, but moved their weekly game to Sandy Springs because it was more convenient to several regulars. Shibona lives in Brookhaven. Rees lives in Sandy Springs. Harris lives in Buckhead.
They’ve become part of the coffee house scenery. Occasionally, people in the shop see them playing and join in. After all, they’re there every Tuesday afternoon, starting about 1:30 p.m. Barista Jacqui Sands, who’s worked at the shop for about a year, likes having them around. “I think it’s great,” she said. “They build community. I remember the first day I was here, it was Chess Day. It’s Chess Day every Tuesday, rain or shine. They teach younger kids, too. It’s cute to watch. They’re passing along their knowledge.”
And some have stories to tell.
“Ever hear of Iron Mountain, Michigan?” Allen asked, keeping his eyes on the chess board while he waited for his opponent’s next move. “That’s where I met my wife. They had one movie theater and it changed movies about every two weeks then. There wasn’t much to do. So we played chess. … That’s what we did after we saw the movie. We played chess.”
E-mail Managing Editor Joe Earle at firstname.lastname@example.org