Master level chess player operates Charlotte’s first center dedicated to the game at age 26

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Since middle school, chess has been an integral part of Peter Giannatos’ life. He’s participated in more than 200 tournaments, and is recognized as a master level player. In fact, he’s a top-10 player in the state.

After graduating from UNC Charlotte in 2014, Giannatos, 26, figured he would concentrate on joining the working world. He had dreams of making chess his career, but knew that could be a longshot.

A longshot he has spent the last three years making a reality. Over that time, Giannatos became the owner and operator of the Charlotte Chess Center and Scholastic Academy. Located on Camden Road, near the LYNX East/West stop in South End, the center has more than 150 members – making it Charlotte’s first full-time center devoted solely to chess.

“There are others around the country,” Giannatos said – noting cities like Dallas, St. Louis and New York. “Not many, but I was able to pattern this from what I saw and liked.”

Giannatos’ center has become a hot spot for players of all skill levels. In addition to the diverse mix of boys, girls, young and old, there is a healthy representation of players from all ethnic backgrounds. It’s all there – classes, camps and tournaments, and even tournaments for the nation’s elite players.

While at Vance High School in 2007, Giannatos teamed up with a few adults to establish Queen City Chess. The group ran periodic tournaments and met weekly at the Asian Herald Library on Baxter Street.

Giannatos wanted to go bigger. At the start, donors helped fund the center. But since its opening year in 2014, the center has been self-sustaining. Working at his parents’ restaurants over the years helped Giannatos understand what it takes to maintain a viable business.

Students and their parents make up about 80 percent of the center’s revenue. Giannatos, along with his staff of two full-time employees and other part-timers, spend plenty of time teaching at local schools – and have developed many of the city’s top junior players. He was aware that some chess centers cater solely to students, but he didn’t want that to be the center’s sole purpose.

“Over the years, I’ve built up a great network of adult tournament players,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave them out in the cold.”

That network is displayed every night on the center’s two floors – complete with an impressive library and plenty of chess sets ready for the first move. A fifth grader playing a 50-year old is fairly common.

In fact, there’s no better way to keep the mind sharp. Ask Bob Moore, 79, a long-time player and center regular.

“The center is a great place for kids to get a solid chess education,” he said. “It’s definitely kept me playing the game, too. It’s a first-rate facility.”

However, the center is not big enough for Giannatos’ next challenge. In February, he’ll organize and run the N.C. State K-12 Championships at the University Hilton. A crowd of 700 students and their parents are expected.

Want to check it out?

Casual play night starts every Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Charlotte Chess Center. Giannatos said it’s the perfect time for young and old to check out the action.

“It’s a stress-free night,” he said. “We have music playing and free coffee – no one is taking it too seriously. It’s the best way to see what we’re all about.”

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