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Bel Air resident and chess champion Shelby Getz to battle for national senior championship online this weekend

Bel Air resident Shelby Getz, left, in action during last year's 2019 National Senior Tournament of Champions, which he won to earn the right to compete with nine others in the 2020 U.S. Senior Championship this weekend.
Bel Air resident Shelby Getz, left, in action during last year's 2019 National Senior Tournament of Champions, which he won to earn the right to compete with nine others in the 2020 U.S. Senior Championship this weekend. (Courtesy of Shelby Getz)

Shelby Getz, a 58-year old resident of Bel Air, is going to have a busy weekend.

An American chess FIDE Master, Getz will be competing in this year’s 2020 U.S. Senior Championship. The professional chess tournament, which is happening online among 10 players, starts Saturday at 1 p.m. and goes through Monday evening.

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Getz has been playing chess for 50 or so years, and has won many tournaments, regionally and nationally. A win in the 2019 National Senior Tournament of Champions, held in Orlando last August, qualified Getz for this senior championship event.

This event, though, will be unlike any in his past, simply because it’s all being played online.

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The elite national championship event is hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club and the tournament would be contested in St. Louis, if not for COVID-19.

“This is my first online tournament, which will be a completely new experience,” Getz said Thursday. “There are three time controls, classical, rapid and blitz and this is rapid.”

Getz says the rapid form — not his favorite — comes with an increment.

“That means every time you make a move you get two seconds added to your clock,” Getz said. “I’ve only done that once in a tournament and did not have a good experience.”

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Getz recalls forfeiting on time and taking a very bitter loss. “In any event, this is a new experience for me,” Getz said.

The experience will put Getz into nine matches against opponents from all over the U.S. All are over 50 and all are Grand Masters of chess. It’s a 10-player round robin tournament.

“The contenders I’ll be going up against, these players are the game’s veterans,” Getz said. “They are generally the players who dominated the sport in this country three, four decades ago in the 80s and 90s. So, for me, this is a privilege or an opportunity to compete against them.”

The list includes Larry Christiansen, 64, from the Boston area; Igor Novikov, 58, from Lexington, Kentucky; Patrick Wolff, 52, from San Francisco; Gregory Kaidanov, 60, from Lexington, Kentucky; Alexander Goldin, 55, from the Orlando area; Alexander Shabalov, 52, from Pittsburgh; Joel Benjamin, 56, from Waldwick, New Jersey; Alex Yermolinsky, 62, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Dmitry Gurevich, 63, from Chicago.

The 10 men are battling for $50,000 in prize money and the title of 2020 U.S. Senior Chess Champion.

Getz says he’s the lowest rated among the 10 players, so to defeat a few, or maybe many, will be special.

“Being the lowest entrant in terms of rating, that would be a significant event,” Getz said.

Getz says he was taught the game of chess by his father at the age of seven or eight, but it was a loss to his younger brother in Getz’s teen years that made him get really serious about the game.

Getz promised himself “that will never happen again,” he said of his loss to his brother.

Getz remembers sneaking into his father’s library and plucking out the lone chess book on the shelf.

“I literally consumed it overnight and I tried to stealthy return it to its shelf in the early dawn hours," he said. “Thinking my mission was accomplished, my father, nevertheless, surprised me the next day by buying me [a chess-related book] down in the City of Baltimore."

Getz recalls he and his father going to War Memorial Plaza for chess events, but it was trip in Harford County that got his attention.

“When I thought I was good and uppity as a teenager, my father took me to a tournament in Havre de Grace and I watched this gentleman, stout gentleman, dispatch a fellow senior,” Getz said. “I thought, well geez, I’m going to have to play him. I would end up losing to his son in that tournament. He literally cleaned my clock and I said, ‘Geez, I don’t really think I know enough about this game.'”

That, Getz says, re-fueled his interest, enthusiasm and effort to school himself.

Looking ahead, Getz hopes to get back to playing the game in person over the chess board, rather than online.

“I’m hoping that this, what we’re going through now, hoping that it will dissipate and that things can become normal again. I think we all want that,” Getz said. “That would be ideal, because there’s a certain camaraderie in being able to congregate together in person. Online, it’s not so much and this is going to be the first time in an online [tournament] for me.”

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