'Chess with Neighbors' in Bay View a big hit during COVID

For something dubbed a "social event," it’s pretty silent. 

"It’s a quiet event because chess requires focus," said Olga Thomas. 

The game of chess has captivated neighbors in Bay View thanks to Thomas, a local chess queen. 

"People of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities coming together and bonding over something, and that’s beautiful," said Thomas. 

Thomas made the first move to create a DIY at-home chess club. She had no idea a simple question on Facebook asking if anyone was interested in playing chess with her son was a move that would land dozens of people in her front yard. 

"That’s the goal," said Thomas. "To expose people, as many as we can, to this game." 

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After the coronavirus pandemic put a bind on local chess clubs, the game wasn’t over for Thomas. She opened up her home to all ages and any skill level, creating the Bay View Knights Chess Club.

"We had a logo, we had a brand and we had an event scheduled," said Thomas. 

She called the event "Chess with Neighbors." With dozens of chessboards scattered outside and seats through her yard, the event picked up the pieces of social interaction missed due to COVID-19.

"Starting a conversation over chess can lead to friendships. It can lead to a lot of different things," said Jeannette Tries, neighbor.  

Thomas grew up playing chess with her dad in Romania; a nostalgic game she says comes with a lot of benefits. 

"Chess teaches you strategy. It requires focus," said Thomas. "It develops creativity and teaches you the consequences of your actions."

As she teaches the strangers in her yard the ins and outs of the game, her chess club continues to checkmate COVID-19. 

Thomas hopes to get approval from Milwaukee County to place a cement chess table in one of the Bay View parks. If you’d like to attend her next event, you can follow the "Bay View Knights Chess Club" on Facebook.