He's a Champion for Chess

Megan Sprague
September 22, 2010

By day, Mooresville CPA Ken Baxter plays with numbers.

By night, he plays with a chess board.

And after decades of playing the game so well, Baxter has been inducted into the North Carolina Chess Association’s Hall of Fame.

“My parents and grandparents taught me how to play at age six, but I didn’t really get into the competition side until Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky (in 1972),” Baxter explained.

“That was really the heyday of chess in America. All along, I had played with friends and family, but didn’t play a game with the (United States Chess Federation) until 1974.”

Baxter said he loves chess because “it’s the one game that doesn’t rely on luck or a referee’s bad call.”

“It’s strictly you and your opponent, your ideas versus their ideas,” he said. “There’s no opportunity for a bad card draw or unlucky roll of the dice.”

Over the years, Baxter said his love for chess has “ebbed and flowed” but has never left. “Whenever I would move to a new town, I would find a chess club to play with,” he said. “It’s my passion.”

His “passion” led him to be elected secretary and treasurer of the NCCA in 1984 and president in 1986. Baxter wanted to grow the association and change the way chess fans looked at Gambit, the NCCA’s bi-monthly publication for members only.

“When I get involved in anything, I want to improve it; it’s just in my nature,” he said. “Up until then, Gambit had been more like a newsletter and not very substantial. With the advent of the computer, we could do more, faster. I was able to get a corporate sponsorship from LINC, (one of the early online internet companies), who came through with money to enhance Gambit.

“We could get information about national and international tournaments and I believe that’s what members wanted. Now, of course, it’s all electronic and on the Web site, but it added additional value to membership at the time.”

In his elected positions at the NCCA, Baxter was able to institute lifetime memberships to increase the treasury. He also attained the highest rating of his chess career, 2114, in April of 1988, his second year as president.

Wanting to share the joy of chess with local children, Baxter helped create and was elected president of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Scholastic Chess Association in 1989. Today, he teaches chess at the Afterschool Enrichment Academy on Brawley School Road in Mooresville and to homeschooled children at two local churches while still running a successful CPA business.

“I think it’s sad that America doesn’t embrace the intellectual arts as much as sports or entertainment,” he said. “I’ve personally seen that chess can help children do well in all academic pursuits.

“Most people think it’s only about math, but it engages both sides of the brain. Of course you have to use logic but there are literally dozens of choices in moves and you have to use your creative side to solve the problem and win the game. You’re constantly learning how to critically evaluate decisions. You can’t be flippant; you must think about the consequences.”

His most recent accomplishment of being inducted into the Hall of Fame came on Labor Day weekend at the annual NCCA meeting.

“The NCCA doesn’t induct someone every year, only when someone is sponsored and voted in, so it’s a big deal,” Baxter said. “I was quite pleased and humbled. All the work that I did mainly relates to the 1980s and ‘90s, so many of the current players weren’t aware of my efforts and contributions. It was wonderful to feel the support and hear the congratulations.”

For people who want to get into the world of chess, Baxter said to “just do it.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “You will lose, but you’ll win as well. From each loss, you will learn something and just enjoy the game for what it is. It’s a great social activity and it’s universal all over the world. I was in Spain and don’t speak a word of Spanish, but I saw some guys on the street who were playing and had a great match.

“The rules are the same everywhere. I’ve also played in Moscow and Bermuda. If you know how to play, you can go anywhere in the world and find a friend.”

Baxter said he would like to create a chess club in Mooresville and is looking for players. Anyone who is interested can contact him at: ken_baxter@roadrunner.com or 704-662-8575.