Lawyers use knights and kings to promote civics

Despite a rain-soaked afternoon, just over 30 chess enthusiasts gathered at the City Market in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday to test their skills at the centuries-old game and help support the young, by comparison, American democracy.

The We the People White Knight Chess Tournament, sponsored by Cohen & Malad LLP and Barnes and Thornburg LLP, raised money for the Indiana We the People program. Plaintiff attorneys, defense attorneys and some members of the bench, along with several youngsters and nonlawyers who just love the game, faced off in a friendly competition where the winners got bragging rights.

Lawyers, family and friends faced off in an afternoon chess match Oct. 26 featuring some of the country’s best players. | IL Photo, Marilyn Odendahl

All of the proceeds from the event, which Cohen & Malad attorney Gabriel Hawkins estimated was about $1,800, will go toward the civics education program We the People. Run by the Indiana Bar Foundation, the program teaches elementary, middle and high school students across the state about the Constitution and citizenship.

The idea for the chess tournament came from Hawkins. Having played chess since he was in second grade, he sees similarities between the game and the practice of law. In particular, both require the foresight to see several moves ahead.

“Chess is to lawyers as calisthenics are to football players,” Hawkins said. “It sharpens the mind.”

The afternoon began with a tournament where players matched their skills one-on-one. Then the action progressed to a simultaneous exhibition, where children and adult players competed at the same time against Chess Grandmaster Fidel Corrales Jimenez of Boston.

As the individual players sat hunched over their game boards, the grandmaster glided around the room, only to pause briefly before each competitor, peer at the board then deftly move his pieces. He never stopped smiling, and when his opponents’ kings fell, he would shake hands and take the time to offer a brief chess lesson.

Even though he still had several pieces on his board during the “simul,” Sean Griggs, partner at Barnes & Thornburg, said he was getting a “thorough thrashing.” This was not his first time in a simultaneous competition, having actually won one in 1980.

“It was an accident,” Griggs said of his victory, “a complete accident.”

Curled in a chair a few boards down from Griggs was 8-year-old Madison Brown of Carmel. She came to play in her signature hoodie and black and white chess pants, and, showing the skills that has her ranked fourth in the nation among girls 8 and under by the U.S. Chess Federation, was still challenging the grandmaster long after most of the other players had been defeated.

Alas, Brown currently has no plans to pursue a legal career, preferring instead to be a “world-renowned neurosurgeon.”

The second to last to fall in the simultaneous exhibition was attorney Justin Kuhn of Cohen & Malad. He began playing chess as a toddler and came to the tournament to reinvigorate some of those skills that had been allowed to atrophy in recent years.

Kuhn found reason for celebration in small victories as the competition progressed. He explained that he considered himself to be “crushing it” if the grandmaster studied his board for longer than 5 seconds before making a move.

Hawkins is unsure if the chess tournament will become an annual event. He would like any future contests to have about 20 more participants, but the focus will remain on having fun rather than on competing.

“Lawyers have enough competition as it is,” Hawkins said.

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