Mechanic’s Institute Chess Club: No Place for Sissies

World class competition can also be viewed at another San Francisco institution that dates to Gold Rush days when chess hustlers victimized hapless rubes at bayside bars and diners. The Mechanics’ Institute building houses the oldest chess club in the United States. According to John Donaldson, the MI Chess Director and world-renowned expert, the club has a rich and storied history.

The Mechanics’ Tuesday Night Marathon (TNM) has a rich tradition that dates back at least 30 years. The idea of playing serious chess one night a week has appealed to a broad range of players from Senior Master to beginner, who find the time commitment fits their schedule quite comfortably.

Donaldson notes that today we think of eight rounds as the normal duration for a TNM, but that has not always been the case. In 1975 they played 12 rounds per tournament. Recently the Marathon switched to having sudden death for the second time control.

“It was probably the last tournament in the world to still feature adjourned games, the rest of the chess community having given up the practice years ago due to the rise in playing strength of computers,” he says. “The Mechanics’ Institute still has several hundred adjourned move envelopes, which will no doubt become collector’s items.”

The TNM not only provides strong competition for players ranging in strength from Master to beginner, it’s also very affordable with an entry fee of $50 for eight/nine United States Chess Federation (USCF) rated games. The Marathon is a perfect fit for those who can’t commit an entire weekend to chess.

Keep a keen eye out for the young men and women who wear horn-rimmed classes and appear to be the most socially awkward. They can play as well as any dockside grifter looking for any easy mark.