CLEARFIELD — U.S. Navy veteran and retired math teacher Dave Sheaffer, 69, of Clearfield, now spreads the Royal Game of chess throughout Central Pennsylvania.
Sheaffer volunteers his time with both the adult and children’s chess club in Clearfield. Sheaffer also lends his skills to the Punxsutawney chess club and chess team.
He got started in the local chess clubs when several months ago he saw a newspaper ad that the Shaw Public Library was starting a children’s chess club so he called the library and volunteered to help as he used to give chess lessons to kids.
He also asked if he could start an adult chess club as well and the library agreed.
The adult chess club has steadily grown to 14 people, about half that number show up on any given Thursday, and the children’s chess club has about a half dozen members.
The adult chess club is held on the first and third Thursdays of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the library and the children’s chess club is on the second and fourth Thursdays starting at 6:30 p.m. Also every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Sheaffer gives free chess lessons for whoever wants to attend. Usually the lesson entails studying historic games between grandmasters.
Adults will also play amongst themselves at the library on children’s chess club nights.
Sheaffer said chess is a great sport for people of all ages, because it exercises the brain and makes you smarter, teaches mental discipline and concentration. And you meet a lot of good and interesting people playing chess.
Sheaffer is a 20-year Navy veteran and after the Navy he worked as a math teacher for children in the criminal justice system before retiring in 2016.
He said he received his first exposure to chess was when he was 10 years old when his mother purchased a chess book for him. He always liked puzzles and he thinks of chess as a complicated puzzle. Several years later he joined the chess club at his high school, Loyalsock High School outside of Williamsport.
He said he didn’t become a serious chess player until college when he joined the Bloomsburg University Chess Team. “That’s when I really learned how to play chess,” Sheaffer said.
Once in college he said he began to seriously study chess strategy and tactics.
He said Bloomsburg University was very good at chess in the 1960s and 70s and as a team it traveled all over the state and the East Coast, playing in tournaments including in Washington, D.C., and New York City. ‘We won a lot of trophies,” Sheaffer said of his team in college
After graduating from college he joined the U.S. Navy and continued to play chess whenever he could find the time.
One year in the late 70s he won the the Navy’s Okinawa Championships, finished third in the All Japan Championships in Tokyo and then played in the All Pacific Championships in Manila, Philippines, where he finished sixth. If he had finished in the top four he would have qualified to the All Navy Championships in Washington, D.C. But he said it was good he didn’t go to D.C. as his wife was seven months pregnant at the time and a typhoon hit Okinawa when the championships were being held.
From time to time Sheaffer says he would play in non-Navy tournaments. He played in the World Open in Philadelphia in 1989 and 1990, finishing as high as third place in the Under 1800 Division and winning $922.22 in prize money one year.
“And that was when money was tight,” Sheaffer said. Fortunately, because he was in the Navy, he stayed at the Navy base while in Philadelphia saving him the expense of paying for a hotel room and buying food.
After leaving the Navy and becoming a teacher, he worked in Franklin County but lived in Clearfield. He wanted to spend as much time with his family so for about 20 years he didn’t play much chess. During that time he only played in one tournament the 2006 Tri-County Chess Tournament in Brockway where he finished in first place.
After retiring he joined the Punxsutawney’s chess team/chess club. He plays in Punxsutawney every Saturday at the Pizza Den. From September through May, the Punxsutawney Chess Team competes in the in the Pittsburgh Chess League. Seven or eight times a year the team travels to Pittsburgh on Sundays to compete against teams from Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh and others like Sheaffer. He said they compete in three divisions, with the divisions divided depending on the strength of the players and their U.S. Chess Federation rating. Sheaffer said the Punxsutawney team plays in the middle division. This year they finished third but in previous years they have finished in first place in the middle division.
Other than chess, Sheaffer said he loves playing duplicate bridge, genealogy and following the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I don’t even like to miss a single pitch,” he said of the Pirates.