Kings, queens, pawns, standing rigidly on chessboards in a Georgetown storefront window, were like a welcome mat for 50-year-old Army retiree Robert L. Bassett.
Bassett, who stands 5 feet, 4 inches tall, wears an old green Army cap and has 10 children, is, by his own definition, a chess fanatic.
His world, like that of many other chess players who visit the only store of its kind in the District, revolves around a checker-board battlefield with 32 playing pieces.
At the chess shop - Your Move near Key Bridge - strangers can find fellow fanatics, square off and match their wits to the board, with only egos at stake.
Last November, Stuart Sweet and Walter Stromquist started the store with the idea of selling exotic game equipment - including chessboards made of butterfly wings - and providing space that players could rent for chess and backgammon games and tournaments.
The appeal of chess in the Washington area was the key reason Your Move opened, according to 25-year-old Sweet. Despite strong chess interest and the many talented players, Sweet says his business has been in the red since it opened.
His profits, Sweet said, do not come from renting space to players, but from the sales of game equipment.
According to Sweet, there has even been serious discussion as to whether or not the owners should continue to rent space to players, even though he and his partner had hoped to develop a gathering place for the players of both games.
The cost for each game is 50 cents an hour, with as many as 24 chess players in competition at one time.
"We have to increase our profits by 20 percent or we will go the way many predicted in the first place," Sweet said. He is hoping the store can stay afloat until the Christmas season when gift shopping will boost sales.
Bassett is one player who relishes chess at Your Move.
"I just love the game. I go out to Walter Reed Hospital and play, or I just sit at home, buy a bottle of Ripple and play my sons."
He has more than 50 chessboards at his Silver Spring home, including one that costs more than $700, with intricately carved ivory pieces.
Equipment, however, is not the key to the game. Bassett, who told a reporter he would never become a great chess player, said he has a low tournament rating of 1,073.
The competitive chess rating system, established by the United States Chess Federation, gives beginners a 1,400 rating, according to a spokesman for Your Move. The rating can then go up or down depending on how the player does in competition. A player who has a rating of 2,000 is considered an expert and one with a rating of 2,200 or better is considered a master.
"I play with kids and we don't play for blood," said Bassett. "When I go to tournaments and those big shots ask me for my rating, I slip it to them on a piece of paper and tell them to shut up."
Another chess player, 33-year-old Sam Greenlaw, who said he designs and installs large-scale computer systems, said he believes chess is the best sport for thinking.
"I don't see what people who lift weights get out of it . . . There can't be that much intellectually going on . . . . I have some trouble with long distance runners. Sure they have time to think, but running that long distance you just can't think that much."
Greenlaw, who teaches chess at Your Move and has a rating that hovers around 2,000 said, "I do all my figuring in my head and the chess board doesn't have anything to do with the game."
His concentration is so intense, Greenlaw said, that in a recent match when someone grabbed him from behind he reacted by "throwing him on the floor . . ."
Steven Odendahl, who is 18 years old and has taken a year off after high school graduation to test his potential in chess, spends a good deal of time at local chess club as well as at Your Move.
Odendahl, of Chevy Chase, has a competitive rating of 2,290. He said he is sure his playing ability will diminish when he begins college next year.
It is college, according to 19-year-old Mark Ginsberg who is a sophomore at Princeton, that has kept him from becoming as good as former Junior World Chess Champion Mark Diesen, who lives in Potomac.
Ginsberg, of Bethesda, competes with the Washington Plumbers National Master's Chess Team at Your Move during breaks from school. In a telephone interview from Princeton, he said. "I'm stuck in college and it is interfering with chess. Diesen did not go to college after high school and was able to concentrate on chess. I have to devote my attention to college."
Ginsberg said he learned how to play chess from a book when he was 6 years old and has been in competition since he was 13. The junior chess player has a master's rating of 2,270.
"My first milestone after learning the game was at 8. I beat my teacher at blindfold chess. That is where you call out the moves and the board is in your memory," said Ginsberg.
"The next milestone came at 13 years old in my first tournament game when I played in a novice section and won it easily . . .My breakthrough in 1974 came when I beat two masters and two experts, shocking all the people I played - I was still young then, about 15."
Another chess player who frequently stops by Your Move is Eugene Meyer, who describes himself "with all modesty" as "one of the best chess players in the area."
Meyer is a chess master with a rating above 2,300 and learned to play the game when he was 9 years old. He and his brother, John, who also is a chess master, did not attend public school but were taught at home by their parents, where instruction included the fine points of chess. Both brothers were graduated from Yale.
Meyer, 26, who lives in the District with his brother, works for the National Tax Limitation Committee, which lobbies for lower taxes. He said he has never considered becoming a professional chess player because he never wanted to be in a position where he had to win.
"The situation where, if you lose, you don't eat has never appealed to me."