How It All Got Started
There is very little information available about organized chess in Vicksburg before 1972. The so-called "Fischer boom" that began in 1972 when American GM Bobby Fischer stunningly defeated reigning world champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union for the world title inspired the creation of a Vicksburg Chess Club that lasted several years in a building near the City Park. Later there was a club at the local YMCA about twenty to thirty years ago.
The current Vicksburg Chess Club was founded around November 2008 by local chess organizer Don Rathburn. In 2009 it moved to the Vicksburg Senior Citizen Center for weekly evening meetings with Rathburn as its director. It slowly evolved into a very active program that had twenty-six members of all ages and walks of life at its peak. It included state and local chess legend Johnny Guinn who won the state championship in 1985. It remained very active until it was temporarily halted by the Covid pandemic of 2019-2020. It is currently being revived with a full agenda planned for 2022.
The chess program under Rathburn's direction held weekly meetings featuring chess puzzles and sometimes member chess lectures followed by Chess and Chess960 games and concluding with a casual blitz tournament. Since 2011 there have been annual tournaments for the men's and women's city/county championship. They were locally televised on channel 23 with commentary, sometimes even having newspaper articles written about them. There was also the occasional novelty chess tournament and an annual simultaneous exhibition with International Master David Ross and Team Chess League Tournaments. The Team Chess League was composed of four teams that met monthly on Saturdays for a competition to determine the winning team.
The Vicksburg Chess Club also supports the GATES chess tournament for local schools. Don Rathburn and Jeff Hensley would provide services as co-Tournament Directors. Since 2008 the Vicksburg Chess Club has provided the public with educational opportunities in which club members teach new members how to play the game and/or teach them the finer points of the game. In the past, the club has set aside several days to teach members of the general public, both young and old, how to play the royal game and also teach rudimentary strategy and tactics, whether they intended to join the club or not.
By 2017 the chess program was attracting an average of twenty individuals each week. Since the program was attracting younger members of the community, which the Senior Center was not designed to serve, the program had to change. Thus, in November of 2017, a meeting was held to form an official club with elected officials. Jeff Hensley was elected President, and Don Rathburn was elected Secretary-Treasurer. Also, by-laws and regulations of the Vicksburg Chess Club were adopted. A second election was held in 2018, and the same officers were elected to continue serving our chess program. The club moved to Pemberton Mall, which helped attract more public interest in the club by significantly increasing its visibility.