Planning The Perfect PRO Finals Weekend In San Francisco
San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

Planning The Perfect PRO Finals Weekend In San Francisco

| 13 | Fun & Trivia

Headed to the PRO Chess League's in-person semi-finals and finals in San Francisco April 7-8? You've probably read over the schedule of official events, but that may still leave you worried about how to tailgate before the event and where to host your post-game revelry.

Luckily the esports event isn't the only place in Frisco to fill your chess-themed weekend. Here's the "perfect" 48 hours to fill your two days in San Francisco. As they say, you can sleep when you're checkmated.


Friday April 6

7:00 p.m. Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St (Oakland, CA)

If you get to town early, why not pre-party with a two-time U.S. Champion? Head across the bay to Oakland for a night of "Queens: Women, Chess, Hip-hop" with WGM Jennifer Shahade. She will be joined by "Brooklyn Castle" star Rochelle Ballantyne and Hip-Hop Chess Federation founder Adisa Banjoko.

There will be a conversation and an interactive chess event titled "RESPECT: Hip-hop Style and Wisdom." Afterward, you can challenge Shahade and Ballantyne (presumably to a game of chess, although a dance-off is not out of the question).

Saturday April 7

7:00 a.m. Royal Grounds Coffee, 2216 Polk St.

This tiny local chain will be a great place for your morning pick-me-up and breakfast. It's not just any coffee shop and the tables aren't just any size.

They're the perfect shape for the "royal" game as these chess players know well. Other reports claim that there's casual chess being played most days.

There's also a regular meetup on Mondays for both chess and Scrabble players, should your weekend of chess turn into a three-day bender. And as we now know from Levon Aronian, when your chess is running bad, Scrabble might be a good way to remember how to win at something.


San Francisco is a great city for biking, walking, or taking the cable car. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

8:00 a.m. Portsmouth Square Park, intersection of Kearny and Washington Streets, Chinatown

After a 25-minute walk or seven-minute Uber, you'll arrive at a place with much history. This "Heart of Chinatown" is where the discovery of gold was announced in 1848, but the reason you're here is the addition in the 1990s of chess tables.

You may end up playing "Western" chess, or Chinese chess, but even the latter would be fitting if the Chengdu Pandas keep steamrolling the league this season.


Somewhere in the Mission District, this guy wants to take your pawns. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

9:30 a.m. Folsom Street Foundry (PRO League Semifinals), 1425 Folsom St.

It's about a 40-minute walk to the site of the first-ever chess esports event, which begins at 10 a.m., so you'll likely want to jump in a taxi for the 2.5-mile journey. If you were lucky enough to get tickets, which are first-come, first-served, you'll make chess history as one of a crowd of 1500 chess fans watching the twin PRO League semifinals.

The semifinals will begin at 10 am and 2 pm local time. 

The venue is no stranger to "game nights." Here's a video walking you through the setting:

5:00 p.m. The Sycamore, 2140 Mission St.

That 10 a.m. start didn't leave much time for tailgating in the parking lot beforehand, so it's time to have a few beers with friends, plug in the PGN, and analyze the day's games. Luckily The Sycamore is less than a mile away in the Mission District and online reports suggest that chess is sometimes played in the bar.

Luckily you needn't have brought a clock since you remembered to download the free clock app to your iPhone or Android phone. As for a chess set, why not procure one that fits the setting? This one infuses local San Fran culture allows bishops to travel much faster than BART trains ever did.


The PRO Chess League Finals: As sure to bring in the crowds as the morning fog. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

And if you were inspired by Magnus Carlsen competing in the PRO League while sipping suds in a pub, then you may be compelled to play a chess-based drinking game. Careful though, this set of rules calls for watery domestic beers. You're in the Mission, and The Sycamore's taps cater to the high-gravity hipster palette

7:00 p.m. Mechanics' Institute, 57 Post St.

You'll be just arriving as the 18th Imre Konig Memorial is wrapping up, but that's a perfect time to tour the oldest chess club in the United States. Pro-tip: Don't try to park your own car there, as IM John Donaldson warned in his informative back story of the club on the Perpetual Chess Podcast.


Wooden tables at the oldest chess club in the country. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

Confused about the theory of the games you just witnessed at the semifinals? There's a massive library of chess books for you to reference.

A pity your weekend doesn't extend into Tuesday, when their revolving one-game-per-week tournament routinely draws about 150 players.

Sunday April 8

8:00 a.m. Yerba Buena Gardens, 750 Howard St.

You're up bright and early after not being able to sleep (but we did give you an extra hour of sleep!). Must be all that excitement over the PRO League finals! Luckily this centrally-located park offers chess tables and opens at 6 a.m. You may even find local IM Elliott Winslow there.


The chess tables at Yerba Buena Gardens. Apples not usually included. Photo courtesy IM Elliott Winslow.

Pro tip: Don't bother heading to Market Street -- the police decided several years ago that chess was a public nuisance there.

10:00 a.m. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 3rd St.

Only a half block away you'll arrive right at opening time. What's waiting for you inside? The most famous chess-playing artist of all time, Marcel Duchamp, has three works in the permanent collection.

Pro tip: The third-place match begins at 10 am, so if your favorite team lost out in the semis the previous day, skip the new few stops and head straight to The Foundry for the consolation match.

Reportedly around master strength and once competing in the French Championship (where he scored 50 percent and also designed the event's poster!), you've probably already "booked up" on his chess life from WGM Jennifer Shahade's game analysis. You won't see any of Duchamp's actual chess works of art, but you will see Fountain, made just before his chess-filled sojourn to South America the following year.


"Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess"

Duchamp was alive during Fischer's run to the world's elite, and the artist said this: "If Bobby Fischer came to me for advice, I certainly would not discourage him—as if anyone could—but I would try to make it positively clear that he will never have any money from chess, live a monk-like existence and know more rejection than any artist ever has, struggling to be known and accepted."

Let's hope the PRO Chess League offers contemporary players a little more fame and respect than Duchamp envisioned!

While at the museum, you should also stop by fellow Dadaist Man Ray's Chess Set. Or, pick up this cubist chess set from the museum's gift shop on the way out.

11:00 a.m. Mechanics Institute, 57 Post St. and Crocker Galleria, 50 Post St.

If you brought your family to San Fran, there's a great one-two waiting for you. Sundays at 11 a.m., the Mechanics' Institute's "Chess for Women Program" offers free classes by Ewelina Krubnik.


Despite the historical precedent, the Mechanics' Institute endeavors to get more women playing tournament chess. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

Drop off your wife or girlfriend (or, drop off yourself if you are a woman!) and then take the kids across the street to the Crocker Galleria, where you'll find a giant chess set in the glass-domed atrium.


Giant chess in the Crocker Galleria. Image: Foursquare.

2:00 p.m. Folsom Street Foundry (PRO League Finals), 1425 Folsom St.

By now you know the way, and it's game time! Wear the jersey of your favorite team, practice your rally cries with your mates, and get pumped about being witness to the chess history in the final match.

5:00 p.m. SPARC, 473 Haight St.

After such a long and exciting weekend with crowds of chess fans, it's time to mellow out. Luckily you're in San Francisco, where recreational use of certain substances is now allowed. While you'll have many options, the SPARC chain of dispensaries has "game nights" which reportedly includes chess. 


"Dude, who's move is it again?" Caution: May cause you to play like Petrosian. Photo: ebay.

7:00 p.m. Green Apple Books, 506 Clement St.

Local chess players know this the best used book store for rare finds. One reviewer on TripAdvisor: "I rarely find a bookstore with more chess books than I own, but this was a pleasant exception."

One recent tome found in store was "World ChessMasters in Battle Royal" by I.A. Horowitz and Hans Kmoch about the 1948 World Championship tournament. Green Apple is also selling everything from "Achieving the Aim" by Mikhail Botvinnik (the winner in 1948!) to "The Baltic Defense to the Queen's Gambit" by Andy Soltis.

What other chess settings were forgotten? Have another suggestion? Leave us know in the comments!


The windy path to the PRO Chess League Finals. Photo: Alexey Schekin.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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