PLEASANTON -- Knut Ojermark believes downtown Pleasanton is the perfect spot for kings and queens ... and bishops, knights, rooks and pawns.
The chess aficionado has donated two chess sets to be used at a concrete chess table that has long been ignored for its intended purpose of hosting chess games.
"Chess is something that's important in my life," Ojermark said.
Ojermark, a retired IBM systems engineer, has been on Pleasanton's downtown vitality committee for several years. He recently mentioned that the city needs a public chess table, much like the popular chess tables that spring up daily along Market Street in San Francisco.
When Ojermark pitched the idea of putting up a public chess table, he was told one already exists. The small concrete table with four matching seats is nestled on Main Street between the Museum on Main and the Blue Agave Club restaurant. A black-and-white chessboard, made of ceramic tiles, is built into the tabletop.
"I didn't even know the table existed," he said.
Nobody seems to know the history of the quaint little table. It may have been built in the early 1990s as part of a complete renovation of Main Street. Whatever the history, the table has been used mainly for weary walkers or folks looking for a comfy place to enjoy a snack. The built-in chessboard has been largely ignored.
Ojermark hopes to remedy that situation with his donation of two sets of tournament-quality chess pieces. One set each is stored at the Museum on Main and Blue Agave Club. Folks who want to play a friendly game of chess need only leave some small collateral, like a driver's license, to check out a set.
"The fact that people can come to the museum and check out chess pieces is fantastic," said Jim DeMersman, the museum's executive director. "It's a great idea because it's a way to draw more attention to that table, and perhaps it will get used. It's been there for years, and it's never been used for chess. It's just another addition to downtown."
Ojermark, a Swedish native, has played chess since the tender young age of 5, when his mom taught the game to him and his brother.
"My brother and I played chess all the time," he recalled. "The same thing in high school as well. I was in chess clubs." Ojermark, 71, kept advancing his chess skills until he qualified for the South African Open chess tournament in 1975.
"When I was practicing for the championship, I played one guy 10 games in an hour," he said. "It was speed chess. I noticed an incredible increase in my brain power. It's the best exercise for your brain you can get."
After playing a rigorous round of chess, Ojermark claims he can write 20,000 lines of computer code with zero errors.
"When you go to the gym and do the weights, you increase your muscles," he said. "When you do chess and math, you increase your brain power."
For use on the table, Ojermark ordered two sets of chess pieces from a company that specializes in championship chess pieces.
"They are tournament-level chess pieces," he said. "Tournament has to be a certain size and a certain look. I'd say the king is about 4 inches."
Laura Olson, the Pleasanton Downtown Association's executive director, is tickled pink at Ojermark's initiative.
"To have a volunteer take the lead and take ownership of something was really unique," she said. "We appreciate his tenacity in getting that done. He went to the museum and Blue Agave and worked it out with them. He's a go-getter."
"He's shining a little spotlight on an underutilized or forgotten amenity that was already here," she said. "That's so cool."
Ojermark also had a small brass plaque made that explains where chess pieces may be borrowed. The plaque, affixed to the table, also notes the pieces were donated by Ojermark and his wife, Joan.
"I hope that it will be used," Ojermark said of the table and new chess pieces. "I've been teaching classes in high schools. I talked about playing chess to increase your brain power. Hopefully, we'll get the younger generation to start playing chess to exercise their IQ.
"One of the things that's so special is that downtown is not just for shopping and dining," Olson said. "It really is all about the experience. I love that this is one more thing that you can do in downtown to enjoy the heart of our community."