Chess Boom in Charlotte - an Interview with Peter Giannatos
By Dusan Krunic, American Chess Magazine
Since it was founded in 2014, the Charlotte Chess Center & Scholastic Academy has regularly organized open and invitational norm-winning tournaments and is now recognized as one of the most active chess centers in the USA.
When knowledge is transferred to younger generations, who then incorporate their own abilities and boost these with positive energy, it results in a modern project. Once the project reaches its fifth anniversary, then it is no longer a project but rather a going concern. CCCSA offers different programs that include classes and tournaments for students of all levels. The man who launched this successful initiative is Peter Giannatos, the Founder and Executive Director of CCCSA.
You learned how to play chess at the age of 7, but did not compete in tournaments until you turned 13. Why did it take you six years after learning the moves before you became an active player?
My brother taught me chess, but he was not a tournament player, nor were my parents. He knew the basics and therefore I learned what he knew - no tactics or strategy, just the basics. By a very random event, I met a man, Saul O’Connor. He was a product of the Fischer boom. Saul was only a 1000 rated player but taught me all I needed to know to become hooked. To this day I consider him my best teacher and the rest is history.
You grew up in Pennsylvania, and then moved to Charlotte at the age of 10. How would you describe
the chess activities in both locations at the time when you were just a “chess kid”?
I am not sure of the chess scene in Harrisburg since I wasn’t officially ever part of it. Charlotte had a good chess scene for a city its size. I was fortunate that there were local clubs to play in and scholastic events being organized.
You are now a FIDE Master and USCF Life Master. But do you think you could have achieved more in terms of chess titles and rating, if you had started to compete earlier?
Yes. But I still have some vague hope of becoming an IM. The issue is not whether I could acquire the skill to move on, but whether I am willing to make the time commitment to make it happen. I may have turned out a stronger player had I started earlier, but who actually knows? I am happy that I did not face any pressure from my parents to play. I think that helped me grow at the rate I did.
Being a chess teacher/coach, in your opinion what is the ideal age to learn chess?
Learning chess as early as possible is the best for students. Some students can learn as young as 3½ years of age. In our group classes we recommend students start between 4½ and 5 years old.
How did it all start? At the beginning, what kind of support from the local community did you receive?
The CCCSA started as a club meet in a library in 2007. I was in high school at that time. The then, Queen City Chess Association, was established. Local chess players Gary Newsom and Mike Eberhardinger took me under their wing to teach me how to direct tournaments and organize. To cut a long story short, after years of meeting once a week and running tournaments bi-monthly, I brought up the idea to our members about donating to start a Center. It was well received, $30,000 was raised and we never looked back.
What about the people who supported the project in its early stages. Are they still around?
Support was extremely strong from the small but tightly knit community. Many of those supporters are still around today. Their names are listed proudly on a plaque in our Center. These days we have great loyalty among our much larger base of players. Since the founding stage we do not solicit donations but run and operate as a business.
We have seen many different players achieving norms and gaining IM and GM FIDE titles in tournaments that you organized at CCCSA. Whose achievement impressed you most?
We have produced 23 norms since we started organizing these events. Of course there are many norm earners, some familiar names being Nicholas Checa, Andrew Tang, Michael Brown and Steven Zierk. They all received their final GM norm at our events.
What about the USCF? What do you expect from the crown organization?
My relationship with the US Chess has always been a relatively pleasant one. I am very happy with the current leadership which has made an effort to reach out to organizers, like myself, to get our opinions and ideas on how to move forward. I think US Chess does a fine job organizing their committees which are designed to improve chess to specific groups, like women's chess. I have nothing bad to say about my relationship with US Chess. Their office staff in Crossville, shoutout to Susan Kantor and Joan DuBois, are absolutely fantastic. They always take care of inquiries in an orderly fashion. Executive Director, Carol Meyer, has also been great in listening and meeting with organizers like myself. For this, we should be very grateful.
If a chess aficionado finds him/herself in Charlotte, what can he/she expect from visiting CCCSA?
The attendee can expect a professional environment coupled with an extremely active chess scene. There are plenty of activities to participate in each week.
Could you give us your impressions on chess players – do they make any special demands when negotiating the conditions for playing a tournament or is it mostly about easy agreements?
I do not negotiate with players/coaches too much. We have a standard for our events. Players/Coaches either accept or decline our offer.
A one-man show would be almost “mission impossible”. But how big is your team of co-workers?
We have a great team which includes about ten members. Each has their area of focus and does a great job. I am very happy with my team.
It seems to be a lot of fun whenever tournaments are held in Charlotte. What kind of social activities take place during these events?
We do our best to accommodate players who attend our norm tournaments. At a minimum, we always have an end of tournament social with drinks and pizza. This is the time I have the most fun as I get to spar with the players in blitz chess! You know, many of the players in the top group are higher rated than I am but I destroy them at trash talk :-). No one is off limits either, young stars Praggnanandha and Yoo have had to deal with it first-hand! There have been a few times when we have gone to play pool and have dinner after the games are over. I make it a point to create a sort of camaraderie among my staff and the players.
You’re pretty active in using social media networks. How important do you find these nowadays and which one do you find is the most useful?
In the age of instant information, use of social media is key. I find for chess, Facebook to be the most effective. With Facebook one can post plenty of pictures and details for events, making it more engaging to our audience. In addition, almost all of our target audience has/uses Facebook. Instagram, Twitter and other such social media outlets are more for teens and college kids and are useful but less effective.
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