The amiable gray-haired fellow in a ball cap is often seen sitting under the awning of Carytown's The Eatery, challenging all comers to a round of Super Chess. He's Earl Cox, a 60-year-old Mechanicsville landscaper who waits to engage anybody with the curiosity and patience to accept his challenge.
Cox adorns his playing table with handwritten signs to lure the Xbox crowd: "No Joystick Required!" "No Buttons to Push!" And the disclaimer: "No Gambling. No Selling."
"I don't come to Carytown as much anymore," says Cox with some weariness. "People think I'm up to something, or panhandling." He also frequents Virginia Commonwealth University's student commons, and sometimes the Short Pump Barnes & Noble. He's even traveled to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, where skate kids greet him with, "Hey, Super Chess guy!"
But seeing Cox out in Carytown offers an axiomatic assurance. The world will go on, at least today, here.
"If you lose, nobody's going to come burn down your house or kill your wife," he counsels one frustrated opponent. "It's just a game." And he laughs and then teases. "Just take a deep breath. And remember to look at all 128 spaces before you make the first move."
As with many great discoveries, Cox made his by accident. He was playing chess with friends at the Side Pocket, a tavern on Staples Mill Road with an emphasis on games. A realization came to him on Nov. 1, 1996, while watching friends playing two separate games of chess at the ends of a long table. The idea occurred to him: What if you put two boards together?
He devised seven rules, then began beta-testing the concept. Super Chess didn't impress everybody. People got mad at him. They'd quit and walk off.
"One guy told me, ‘Earl, chess is already a beautiful game, why'd you have to go and mess it up?' " Cox recalls, his face crinkling as he chuckles. "And another fellow, he said, ‘Earl, I'm never playing you again. It'll give me an aneurysm.' "
The first rule of Super Chess is this: "If both kings are in check and one move can not [sic] eliminate both checks, then it is a simultaneous checkmate and the game is over, because when you are in check you have to be able to block, move or capture in one move to stay in the game."
Chess is an intellectual game. Super Chess is, well, more so. Cox reflects, "Winning all the time is as bad as losing all the time. If you're always winning, nobody wants to play you."